Saturday, October 11, 2008

While Nero fiddles....

Clay Burrell's blog
resonates--every time I find myself bumping up against a thought of his, I take it seriously, and occasionally even modify my behavior, a big deal for someone in their fifth decade.

Mr. Burrell has taken edubloggers to task for sticking their heads in the sand as the world burns (see "What Crisis? Edublogging as Rome burns"). I am not going to disagree with him on the fact that Rome is clearly burning. My question is what do we, as teachers, do about it?

Clay's question/challenge:

So how many education bloggers show the slightest indication, on their blogs, that they find addressing these crises worth “suspending their edublogging campaigns”?

Answer: a whopping 17 - out of the 130 blogs with over 600 posts on Alltop’s education page.

I am going to post my response to his blog here. Yes, it's a cheap way to post an entry, and an even cheaper way to see if anyone is reading my words. Still, I take teaching seriously, and it's an interesting question.

Rome’s been burning for awhile, now. I’m guessing my last comment suggesting that you keep sharing thoughts on Gilgamesh for me (and Nero) to enjoy did not fly.

Anyone who pays any attention to history, to politics, to our society can see what’s been going on–and it has been going on for several decades now.

My daughter was beaten by a police officer back in October, 2001. She was jailed. Officers had badge numbers covered up. She was in a peaceable assembly protesting the Bush administration’s plan to bomb people who had nothing to do with 9/11.

Thursday at lunch, one teacher said that voting for a Democrat is akin to inviting terrorists to bomb the US. [Another teacher suggested that perhaps Saddam should not have hung alone, mentioning the leader of a country dear to me hang with him.]

I read Naomi Wolf’s words years ago, and they rang true. I kid about my tinfoil hat, but these are troubled times. In the classroom, I (attempt to) teach children how to think critically. My own views do not (or should not) matter.

I have faith that if I teach children how to think, they will reach reasonable, humane, and (dare I say it?) loving answers to the ills around us.

I hold a position that wields tremendous power over other clans’ children (loco parentis is a big deal to me)–if I espouse my positions publicly, it betrays my faith in the rational approach, and undermines what I am trying to do.

I am not saying we should not be screaming from the rooftops, though it is a shame that we are such a nation of sheep, blind sheep at that, that only the loudest get heard.

I am saying, though, that once I start screaming from the rooftops in an edublog forum, I am betraying my trust in the ability of a republic to educate its children.

(Not that I am not almost there already–but if I give up my faith that humans can think and love, and that we can teach humans how to think and love better, then I am not only giving up on my livelihood, I am giving up on life.)

I do scream and shout, just not in the ed world. If you ever visit my classroom, you’ll hear some very interesting things from children once they are allowed to think on their own. You will hear views contrary to my own, but that are on their way to being reasonable.

I had a very engaging months/years long on-line discussion with a brilliant young man studying at Oxford, a man who held some views obviously pushed on him. We disagreed on just about everything political, but I told him that given his mind, he and I would be much closer to agreeing on things as he got older than he knew.

And, years later, the transition has been startling to some, but not to me.



Nero fiddling comes courtesy of National Geographic.


Kate Tabor said...

Hi Michael,

I took your idea of blog hijack, and reponded to Clay on my own blog. I have the curricular means in Henry David Thoreau to bring this all up in class. I love to teach "Civil Disobedience," and this year I suspect the conversations will be lively.

Anonymous said...

i have a quote magnet on my whiteboard that says, "go out into the world and do well, but more importantly, go out into the world and do good." (i can't remember the author at the moment)
i strive to teach my kids critical thinking skills along with the material and when they ask my opinion, i give it, always stating that it is my opinion/belief and that they are free to disagree. along with those critical thinking skills i want them to pick up on the idea of my magnet, that being kind is in itself a form of success. especially after reading so much of man's inhumanity to man in the news...ugh!

doyle said...


I would love to teach Thoreau, and maybe I'll sneak him in for a day or two as an American naturalist. If nothing else, my kids should learn enough in biology to understand that some things need to change--it is my hope they learn from your class the work that change may require.

(Maybe "hijack" was too strong a word--I think my question is different enough from Clay's post to justify it. I'm sure he'll let me know.)

@Mz. W

I wrestle with giving my opinion. I tell the kids they can ask me if they ever see me outside. I live in town, and bump into students all the time. In the classroom, though, I serve as a source of information (no doubt with inherent biases), I help kids dissect questions, then I stand back.

If a child parrots views from a respected adult without coming to those views herself through careful thought, she'll soon buying snake oil from the next slick salesman in her life.

I agree that it is more important to do good good than do well. The public school climate pushes the kids to do well in a narrow sense of the word. (Administrators are understandably concerned about the NCLB act.)

Jenny said...

You (and Clay) have given me a lot to think about here. I don't scream and shout about these things in my classroom. My students are first graders, it wouldn't help in any way. I do tend to do some screaming and shouting within my school and school district however. I'm not sure where my online life falls in all of this. Again, much for me to mull over.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

I believe (or else I wouldn't be doing this--teaching is very hard) that what you do in the classroom, particularly with 1st graders, has a lifelong effect. The kids are acorns--the shade of the resultant oak trees will cover our graves. We'll never see it.

Clay's words are phenomenal, but I'm betting that whatever happens in your classroom will have a far bigger effect than any shouting you do outside the classroom.

Humans, even the embryonic ones you teach, know what matters.

Keep up the good work.