Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Teaching Blind Obedience

Judge: Teachers Don't Have Free Speech In Class

A judge rules that American teachers "do not have a right under the First Amendment to express their opinions with their students during the instructional period. The judge ruled that school officials are free to adopt regulations prohibiting classroom discussion of the war." The Progressive 03/24/06

When I taught High School, I often held frank and open discussions in my classes. It was practically my trademark. I wanted to hear students’ opinions on politics, war and ethics. At the same time I always made it clear where I stood on such matters. While I did not expect them to agree with me or anyone else – I did demand that they take the time to try and understand the unique perspective of each person.

It is ridiculous for a judge or school administration to say that they employ a person for their knowledge but not for the opinions that shaped their understanding. How could I teach art, without teaching inspiration? My inspiration is literature, philosophy and religion – all of which have political inferences and implications.

So when I produced a scroll painting depicting a harsh landscape interacting with symbols of personal survival during preparation for war and a student saw this work and asked about it – they were told the truth behind my motivation. I can’t tell you how many times a student would accuse me of being Left-Wing or Right-Wing and I’d have to clarify that the label is meaningless when the two representative parties are so similar. This would inevitably lead to a lesson on Plato’s approach to rulers, which in modern terms basically states – if they want the power so bad that they spend $40million to win a $150k/year job – they’re just in it for the power and not the best choice to honestly rule the people.

For the most part I had a largely positive response from students in my classes, because they always knew how I felt about real-life issues. Teenagers are very opinionated and not shy about giving it. They usually respond best to adults that they recognize as also having and projecting strong opinions, with a bit of life-experience thrown-in for good measure. Don't silence the teachers just because they encourage children to think, rather than blindy follow. - DN

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