Teach & Serve II, No. 8 – I Hope Our Students Are Better
September 28, 2016
… the idea that somehow being less is really being more is dangerous.
I do not understand.
I do not understand the how or the when.
How did it become a good thing to be less informed, less inquisitive, less prepared?
When did it become a strength to be unclear, unfocused and obscure?
There’s something going on in the United States that, as educators, we should consider and counter. There is a significant shift in our cultural consciousness from valuing intelligence and preparation to valuing … something else, something other, something dangerous.
Dangerous is the right word for us as educators because, if the culture says being undereducated and unprepared is what we should be, schools might as well close up shop. If the culture is saying intelligence is bad, what the hell are we doing? If the idea is that a high level of preparation and proficiency should be mocked, are we not just wasting our collective time?
When did this all become okay?
I love watching smart people doing smart things. I love being in conversations when the talk around me is high level talk and the people are smarter than I (and I am in a lot of conversations like this). I love seeing ingenuity at work, intelligence on display, preparation in abundance.
I spent many years talking to students about being smart, being hard working, being prepared. I talked about these things as gold standards, as things to be admired, as values to be attained. They were things to which we should aspire. I would challenge students. Be cleverer. Be better prepared. Be controlled. Be quick and nimble and intelligent.
I am not currently in a classroom and, lately, when I ruminate about how I might discuss with young people this shift in national consciousness, I am at a loss for concepts and words.
Perhaps that’s okay. I guess that is what is valued now. We want our students to be at a loss for words, right? We want them to grope for the simplest vocabulary. We want them to only access the most basic concepts. We don’t desire multi-step, multi-faceted plans. Why would we? Plans with one or two steps should suffice and, if the problems to be addressed by our plans are more complex than we can imagine, we simply need to beat them into the shape of our mindsets. There is nothing beyond our frames-of-reference that we should know. All that is beyond us should conform to our perceptions.
That’s so much easier. And it requires so much less of me as a leader, as a teacher, as a person.
That’s good, right? To be less? To find the easiest route? To dumb it down?
This is dangerous, teachers. Dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, unaffiliated or uninterested. In this context, the idea that somehow being less is really being more is dangerous.
Teaching has a counter-cultural bent to it. It always has. When you give young people the keys to the kingdom, as it were, and teach them how systems work and how they don’t, when they find out how to put the apples in the cart and then upset that same cart, when they are exposed to truth, they sometimes think they know better than their teachers.
In many ways, in our current context, I hope they do. I hope they know better than the messages they are receiving.
I hope they are better than we are currently proving ourselves to be.