Although you're not supposed to, I have several favorite students. They are either very much like me or nothing at all like me -- in between students, while generally nice, are somehow not my favorites. One of my favorite students of 2005-2006 is a young lady to whom I often refer as mini-me because, duh, she reminds me of my tenth grade self. In reality, this chick is way cooler than I was in the tenth grade. For example, yesterday she came to school in a t-shirt that said "stop the genoicide in Sudan." When I complimented her on it, she whipped out an order form and explained that she'd had the t-shirt custom made and that she was selling them to, get this, raise money to donate to an organization working to stop the genoicide in Sudan.
If memory serves, the coolest, most activist things I did in the tenth grade were to A) sign a petition at the Earth Day Festival requiring curbside recycling in Virginia Beach (it worked) and B) plant two trees in honor of Arbor Day, one of which died and the other of which is now almost as tall as my parents' beach house (3 stories!). I also vaguely remember being the cause of a major fight between my parents after my dad, a nuclear submariner with the Navy, found out that my mom had been writing monthly checks to Greenpeace to shut me up about the importance of saving the whales. And, if it counts for anything, I totally fell in love with a guy who had long unkempt hair and really really liked Jane's Addiction. But genoicide wasn't even on my radar.
There's a point to all this.
This favorite student of mine stopped by after school yesterday to talk about what she'd just learned in Algebra class:
- Global warming doesn't exist. It's just something politicians made up to get votes.
- Social norms are not to be questioned.
- Jesus is the only true god, and it is important to live by his laws.
- Her generation is ruining the world.
- Muslims pretty much just torture people.
That must be the "new" math I keep hearing about.
Here's the thing about teaching: I get to talk about global warming, lying politicians, social norms, Jesus, who's ruining the world and how, Islam, and the Geneva Conventions. I'm a Social Studies teacher and, believe it or not, all that shit is in my curriculum. But I don't get to preach, and I tend to err on the side of caution. Oh sure, today I said that nobody at FOX News even knows how to read and I did once claim to be smarter than our current president, but I said those things to make my kids laugh and not to make them believe what I believe.
I don't even necessarily want my kids to believe what I believe, at least not in the way that this Algebra teacher seems to. What I really want is for my kids to think for themselves after examining all sorts of different viewpoints. If they end up believing what I believe, cool. And if they end up thinking FOX News is quality journalism, obviously they're fucking retarded. Okay really, if they end up thinking FOX News is quality journalism, I'm okay with that as long as they've actually thought it through.
Because thinking is pretty much what education is all about. But forcing your beliefs on other people, especially when you're a grown-up and the other people are 15, is not teaching, it's preaching. And although the two words rhyme, they're completely different in spirit. This Algebra preacher has clearly chosen the wrong profession. School is for challenging one's existing views and expanding one's mind. If you want people to remain exactly where they are knowledge-wise, or worse, to accept everything you tell them without thinking, I'm sure there's a nice church nearby. Failing that, you could always apply at FOX News.