Publication Date: 2004-06-16
For my comment, I just repeat John's: Bravo to teachers who stand for their beliefs and defend the constitution. Without them, the dunce sitting in the corner of the room will be our democracy.
A Clifton Park, New York teacher, who criticized the late President Reagan during a moment of silence, may be punished for doing her job: stimulating thought. The distinguished teacher, whose name is not being made public, is an honored teacher of twenty years. Public school teachers have three vital responsibilities when teaching: make the students safe and respected, model civility and reinforce living skills and finally, provide sound educational foundations in which critical thinking is the culmination. Nowhere in their duty does it demand that they be obsequious puppets to politics of the times.
In today?s climate of overt nationalism and ?fast-food patriotism? educators are being emasculated, slaves to a national epidemic of fear and loathing: tow the line, ?teach to the test? and repeat the correct answers in sequence. Between the big brother effect of the ?Patriot Act? and the Administration?s ?Leave no Child Behind Act? teachers are under greater scrutiny than ever: not educationally, but politically. Radio talk show pundits like Lars Larson and Sean Hannity have taken one-sided stories from right-wing parents and have publicly humiliated and scorned teachers. Like most talk show pedagogy, their rhetoric was long on imagination and in dire need of fact verification.
In my own school district I was warned not to use ?school email? to urge my fellow colleagues not to allow soda pop in their classrooms. Yet, teachers could forward ?prayers? and ?folksy tales? of honoring the war in Iraq. I disseminated data on the perils of osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and current research provided by the nation?s leading pediatricians. How could educators claim to care about children, yet allow them to consume sugar water all in the name of raising cash? When I hung progressive and thought provoking articles and images (particularly from Adbusters Magazine) my literature was taken down: even though numerous teachers commented about the ?small crowds? reading the information on the door each morning. Don?t we want young adults to think, to look at all perspectives and to formulate ideas after deep contemplation? In the era of ?No Child Left Behind? standardized tests look to castrate free thought and replace it with rote obedience.
Georgia, along with states such as Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Texas is looking to challenge the scientific study of evolution. The late President Reagan (as a presidential nominee) endorsed the teaching of creationism anywhere evolution was being taught. The Supreme Court in 1987 dealt a lethal blow to those who suggested creationism is taught along side evolution. The case challenged Louisiana?s ?Creationism Act? with the high court ruling the law was ?designed either to promote the theory of creation science that embodies a particular religious tenet or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects.? Foiled on that front, critics of evolution are seeking to simply remove it from science textbooks. What will be next: the teaching of environmental principles because it brings into question another deity close to these charlatan?s hearts: profit at all cost?
Of course, teachers should be held to the strictest codes of ethics and objectivity. The classroom is never the place for an educator to pontificate personal moral ethics and beliefs. The ?teacher figure? wields too much influential ?osmosis? by which a child may simply follow a teacher based on his or her deep like or respect of that educator. As a longtime ecologist, I hold deeply cherished values on the environment and as participatory citizen in our nation?s government it is my obligation to provide dissent to those who portend to lead: as they despoil the natural world. Ironically, I have deep- seated religious roots, but they have no place in my classroom. I would never deny them publicly out of fear or conversely would I discriminate against those who are agnostic. The constitution separates church and state: and I uphold that concept.
I, like most science teachers, provide scientific data, letting the ?chips fall where they may.? When a student asks for my opinion, I suggest that they construct their own formulas based on sound science. Sadly, because of ecological illiteracy, angry parents steeped, in misconception and woefully afraid for open dialogue in a classroom besiege teachers. Enflaming the situation are the likes of President Bush and his cronies who slam public education on a regular basis. Recently, a parent asked me if I taught the ?other side? of deforestation? I replied there is no scientific ?other side? to deforestation: just like there is no other side to child abuse, rape or spousal crime: or cheating students of the truth.
No, this teacher in New York was not disrespectful. She exercised her first amendment right to question a moment of silence. Maybe she wanted her students to consider the 30 plus officials convicted of crimes in the Reagan Administration. Possibly, she wanted them to pry into the shady years of Iran-Contra. Could she be initiating dialogue on President?s Reagan?s attack on public lands, his dismantling of environmental legislation and his abhorrent history of ignoring the pain and suffering of Aids?
With a whole generation of ?baby-boomer? teachers exiting education through retirement, we must pause and ponder who will replace them? Will it be the MTV generation, fluent in commercialism and many a by-product of education by boredom and worksheets? Will they be supported if they dare to be bold leaders and not sheepish lapdogs to the fear and paranoia of the times?
Parents: demand that your children?s educators be dynamic and lead them through education by sense of wonder and wanting to know. Encourage fewer worksheets and more thoughtful writing and reading. Ask educators to connect subjects and not teach them in a vacuum. Citizens: remind the paid politicians who represent you that they cannot glibly manipulate education to fit their agenda. Show scorn on those like Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who called the teacher?s union terrorists. Environmentalists: make presentations in schools about renewable energy, deforestation and sustainable agriculture. Retired individuals: go to classes and explain the depression, the McCarthy years, the Vietnam experience and other valuable life lessons. Teachers: invite reasoned and civil debate and discussion. Insist that fluency in sound data be a prerequisite for opinions and application on issues.
Bravo to teachers who stand for their beliefs and defend the constitution. Without them, the dunce sitting in the corner of the room will be our democracy.
John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher who lives in Philomath, Oregon. His pieces have appeared in the N. Y. Times, Utne Reader, Z magazine and numerous other websites. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: This essay appeared on