Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Teach Your Children Well -or- An Ideologue In Sheep’s Clothing

I was alerted, earlier this week, to a news item coming out of the Indiana state legislature. As you may be aware, over the last few years, various state legislatures around the US have been making careers out of advancing legislative proposals that are borne either of ignorance, mean-spiritedness, or partisan politics and ideology uber alles.

This one’s a beaut.

The Indiana political media have described it as a legislator backing away from introducing any more legislation that would specifically regulate the teaching of creationism in public-school science classes, and toward a wonderfully Orwellian concept: “truth in education” (which could easily be utilized to demand that the creationism theory in fact be included in public-educational discussions).

The idea is: the sponsor of the bill, Indiana state senator Dennis Kruse (R.-Auburn), said that his bill will encourage teachers to discuss many theories. He said that it would encourage students to question teachers and “bring new perspectives to the discussion.” “If you’re teaching something,” Kruse asked, “then a student could question that and say, you know, ‘How do you know that’s true?’ And so the teacher would have to come up with different sources [to explain that] ‘This is why I think this is true.’”

This bill claims not to be … but certainly can be … about the question of whether theories of evolution or creationism should be taught in public schools. But I think it’s about something deeper, or rather, a complete lack of understanding of something deeper. I can’t decide whether the people involved realize it or not (assuredly, there are many legislators in this country whose utterances are either jaw-droppingly ignorant or willfully so) … and I can’t decide which possibility is more troubling.

I’m going to pass by the evolution vs. creationism part of this, and instead go wide-angle on it. I’ve always admired the ability of the “slippery slope” to widen a net that is originally cast over a small fishing area and, because of many things including poor wording, end up applying that net to the whole damn ocean.

Quick question: Sen. Kruse, do you have any idea what teachers do?

Never mind the fact that with the passage of this bill, any student with a reasonably-developed sense of mischief could (under this law) create a whole lot of extra work – a minute on the Internet, or an hour, or a whole afternoon – for some teacher just by asking the question, “can you prove that’s true?” Just because she or he wanted to be a yahoo, regardless of whether she or he cared a toot about the answer.

To me, this isn’t just some teacher defending his fellow teachers against having to do more stupid busy-work than they already have to do, thanks to New Trends In Curriculum Development, standardized testing prep efforts, and all the rest of those great inventions by non-teachers that will surely help teachers teach their students better and prepare them for the Twenty-First Century Workforce, blah, blah, blah.

What this is, is a legislator’s firm misunderstanding of (or willful lack of interest in) what teachers do when they are teaching masquerading as an attempt at deep thought about weighty policy matters.

In preparing for, and carrying out, any classroom activity – class discussion, in-class presentation, WebQuest activity, short open-response questions, longer-term projects – teachers are constantly utilizing their expertise to prove that what they teach is true. Teachers constantly utilize adequate and ample resources in order to be prepared to demonstrate or describe concepts in different ways in case their first approach doesn’t connect with students.

They have to, because even without an Indiana state law, one really penetrating question from a student about a topic for which a teacher is not prepared? … well, there are a lot of students out there who have a very finely tuned “BS meter”. I answer certain questions with “that’s a good question, and you deserve a better answer than I have for you right now, so now I have homework, and that’s to find that answer.” Because in certain circumstances, if I try to make it up on the spot and I can’t defend it, then or later, those questioning students will hear that “BS meter” go off loud and clear.

I was going to write something like, “anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows that teachers do a remarkable amount of work to research textbooks and other resources that they will use in that classroom, because no decent teacher has any interest in presenting material that can’t properly back up.” But that’s an unwritten rule, an automatic, accepted part of our job.

I guess what bugs me is the willingness of someone who probably ought to know better … to impugn the work that teachers have to do just in order to be proper educators … in the effort to advance their own agenda item while simultaneously, unbelievably, claiming they’re not advancing it.

In this corner: people whose professional success is based on the conveyance of accurate information … and in this other corner: people whose professional success sometimes depends upon prohibiting it.

And I’m just worried that False is going to prevail over True.

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December 7, 2012 - Posted by | education, government, politics, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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