March 16, 2011

Teaching and Sacrifice II

On February 20, I posted an article title “Teaching and Sacrifice” (here) about those Wisconsin teachers who had betrayed the sacred trust given them by the citizens of that state, preferring instead their own interests and the greater interests of the unions. The article garnered some interest in the blogosphere, and I was pleased because it illustrated at least some of the reasons why some Americans think so poorly of some who inhabit my chosen profession, and perhaps why they should think well of those who embody the highest values of teaching. When I wrote that article, I did not think that those teachers could have sunken lower, could have more completely betrayed their calling, duty and charges. I was wrong.

From Wisconsin Law Professor and blogger Ann Althouse (here) comes a March 14th post with video from the state Capitol building in Madison. According to Althouse, who also recently appeared on Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox, the people in the video in orange shirts emblazoned with “Proud To Be A Teacher,” are apparently teachers (she spoke with them). There are several other adults present who may be parents, but that’s not known with any certainty. The day the video was shot was, according to Althouse, a day that students and teachers were not in school. It is what the teachers are doing there that I find even more disturbing than abandoning the classroom or obtaining fake medical excuses to lie, to cover for their improper absence.

The teachers are engaging in organized chanting with a group of school children, anti-Walker (the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker) chanting. The children, numbering about 20, are holding signs that they clearly did not make, and are chanting, with their adult role-models and in a call-response mode, as well. Clearly, the kids have no idea what they are chanting. They have no idea that they’re chanting kiddie versions of stock union propaganda, or even what unions and propaganda are.

How do I know this? The children appear to be of first or second grade age. The skills necessary to make the signs that appear in the video are beyond them. They likely have some idea what the words they are chanting mean, but children of that age certainly do not have any idea of the philosophical and political implications of what they are saying. They chant to please the adults who are important to them, no more, no less. That’s the problem.

Teachers operate under the legal doctrine of “in loco parentis.” It’s Latin and means “in place of the parents.” Parents entrust their children to teachers, who may act in place of the parents when the children are with them. They may regulate children’s behavior and dispense discipline as necessary, just as parents would. Of course, in these days of political correctness, few teachers would dare touch a child lest they be sued up one side and down the other, but the doctrine is in place nonetheless.

Perhaps more important is the tacit understanding between parents and teachers. If parents cannot be reasonably certain that teachers will actually teach, why should they entrust their children to any teacher’s care? Teachers must confine themselves to teaching their disciplines, which includes the best currently available knowledge in that discipline. I’m not referring to fads, theories and other silliness, but cold, hard facts, things that work and that we know work because they’ve worked for hundreds of years.

For example, as a teacher of high school English, I stick primarily to reading and writing (a great deal of writing of all kinds), and teaching students how to think, how to analyze literature and speech, why words mean what they mean and their importance. Where I teach, state standards require that we teach children “media literacy,” so each year I prepare--and continually update--a unit on how the media shapes public opinion though what they write, through what they choose not to cover, through polls, through photographs, and every other aspect of the media. The unit requires a great deal of writing and analysis, and, as thoughtful readers might imagine, covers media bias in detail. In doing this unit, I am careful to present both sides of issues--where it’s necessary to present both sides--and again, I teach the kids how to develop higher level thinking skills, not what to think. To do otherwise would be unprofessional and improper.

Even in studying Shakespeare, high school students have to be taught about human nature and politics. They simply can’t understand “Julius Caesar” and Shakespeare’s other works without at least a rudimentary understanding of those concepts. But if I chose a particular political orientation and presented all of my materials through that lens, I would be telling them what to think. I would be guilty of professional malpractice. But worse, I would be breaching the vital understanding between teachers and parents. I would be treading on ground reserved only for parents. Any teacher who does this is inviting the righteous and justified wrath of parents, and is crossing boundaries they should never cross.

Simply put, no teacher should ever engage in political indoctrination with their students. It’s not their place, it’s not their business, it takes precious class time away from what they’re supposed to be doing, and it destroys the trust between parents and teachers that is absolutely vital to the continuance of public education. When the public can no longer trust public schools with their children, we’re in real trouble.

Yes, I know that some people already distrust the public schools, and as a result home school or place their children in private schools. Some parents have good cause to do this, others do not, but that’s a post for another day. As it is, most parents have good reason to trust their schools, and any teacher that does anything to breach that trust is a fool; they’re figuratively cutting their own throat and the throats of every other teacher as well. Union benefits mean nothing if there is no job to which they may be applied.

I suppose that considering what far too many Wisconsin teachers have already done, I should not be surprised. This is merely a part of the logical progression. Once you abandon your classroom for political purposes, once you lie to cover your improper absence, once you’ve co-opted others such as doctors, willing or not, into your offenses, once you’ve damaged property, threatened the lives of your political opponents and their innocent families, why not bring uncomprehending children into the great, socialist fold?

It’s bad enough to do it with high school aged kids, kids who at least are old enough, whose brains have sufficient development to begin to understand the abstractions of politics and political issues, but to bring little children into adult political battles is nothing short of reprehensible. It reveals in those adults manipulating the children a lack of adult responsibility, judgement and moral fiber that should give the real adults in their respective schools reason to reconsider whether such people should be in charge of children. Teachers, remember, also assist in molding the character of their charges.

What they are doing is not child abuse. Such charges are hyperbolic, but it is a clear boundary violation, a violation that can and will break down the trust between parents and teachers that is absolutely vital, for without it, every teacher’s job is in jeopardy, and most importantly, students are not receiving the education their parents have every right to expect they should receive. After all, if teachers are not all about teaching as well as they can, every minute they have, what's their argument for their continuing relevance and employment?

In my original post, I wrote of a protesting teacher who displayed a sign identifying herself as one of the teachers of one of Gov. Walker’s children. I explained in some detail why that act alone endangered not only Gov. Walker’s child, but every other child in her school, indeed, why it endangered her. She simply wasn’t capable of seeing the unintended consequences of her actions. These teachers may also be incapable of seeing the unintended consequences of their actions. The difference is that they have no business using children in this way, as walking, talking props in a political play, a play in which such young children cannot be interested and which they cannot possibly care about or understand.

If I was one of those teachers, I wouldn’t be worried about Gov. Walker. I’d be worried about the kid’s parents. I’d be worried because I would have no legitimate explanation, no defense for my misuse of innocent children. If the parents were actually involved in this theater of the thuggish, well, their children never really had a chance, did they?

Posted by MikeM at March 16, 2011 10:49 PM