Teachers Under Pressure The Not So Stealth Attack on Public Education By John Borowski
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 and spousal abuse, rape—or cheating students of the truth.
Sadly, because of ecological illiteracy, angry parents, steeped in misconception and afraid of open dialogue in a classroom, besiege teachers. Inflaming the situation is none other than President Bush who slams public education on a regular basis.
In today’s climate of overt nationalism and de rigueur patriotism educators are being intimidated by 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 against using school email to urge my colleagues not to allow soda pop in their classrooms. Other teachers were free to forward “prayers” and “folksy tales” honoring the war in Iraq, yet I was chastised for disseminating 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 through conscienceless contracts with soda pop companies? When I hung progressive, 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.
What is education? 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 lobotomize free thought and replace it with rote obedience.
Georgia, among other states, wants to challenge the scientific study of evolution. In 1987, the Supreme Court dealt a lethal blow to those who suggested creationism be taught alongside evolution. The case challenged Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” and the high court ruled that 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: making it illegal to teach environmental principles because it brings into question another deity close to these charlatans’ 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 codes and beliefs. But neither is it the place for political intimidation and blind follow-the-leader conformity and convention. It is a place of education.
I, like most science teachers, provide scientific data, letting the “chips fall where they may.” When students ask my opinion, I suggest they construct their own formulas based on sound science.
A Call To Reasonable Acts 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. Demonstrate disdain for leaders 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 people: go to classes and explain the depression, the McCarthy years, the Vietnam experience and other valuable socio-cultural and 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 [email protected]