Life vs. The Classroom

Let me start out by saying that I have the utmost respect for teachers. And then I’ll qualify that statement further: I have the utmost respect for teachers who care about their students and are doing their best to provide a life-worthy education. In my mind that’s different than providing an education that simply meets administrative mandates as measured by standardized testing. I’ll try to demonstrate what I mean by sharing a story about one of my children and a test he took in school.

The test was part of a social studies class. On the final question, he had to write a short essay expressing his opinion about a topic that had been discussed in the class. He received a poor grade on the essay because his articulated opinion didn’t agree with that given as “right” in the classroom. To me, this was an example of teaching a student WHAT to think rather than HOW to think. From that point forward, in that class, my son knew that critical thinking wasn’t desired. What he had to do to get a good grade was answer questions the way the teacher wanted. Even if it was a question of OPINION, he had to reiterate the teacher’s opinion if he wanted a good grade.  That teacher, in my OPINION, should have been dismissed. She wasn’t teaching how to think; she was teaching what to think and if a student disagreed (or a parent), then they were wrong and the student’s grade reflected such.

That lesson does carry over into life, but before we get to that application, let’s look at another example. That same son took a political science class. The teacher in that class was so professional that even after a full two semesters of the course, my son had no idea what the teacher’s political leanings were. The teacher was so professional and so good at keeping his own political values/outlooks to himself that he didn’t impart it at all to his students. He taught them how politics worked, political theories as expressed by a wide variety of political parties and then encouraged them to examine their own values as compared to those of the various political parties to determine their own political party affiliation moving forward.

That teacher taught, in essence, critical thinking. He taught how to research a variety of topics, how to analyze the available information, how to compare it to their own values and beliefs, and then how to act on the results they found. He taught them skills and process; not beliefs or values.

Now, if you can understand the difference between the two teachers described then you can understand what I meant in my opening paragraph. I have the utmost respect for teachers who are providing their students life-worthy education, but not the teachers who simply collect a paycheck to “teach” the minimum administration knowledge objectives as measured by standardized testing. If the teacher truly cares, they teach more than the minimum and they measure beyond administrative standards.

With all of that expressed, let me tell you: I’ve been a teacher (of sorts) for over 30 years.  32 years (and change) ago I become certified as an instructor for the law enforcement community and I started teaching courses almost immediately. I can’t count the number of law enforcement professionals and/or military personnel (or even those who were neither) I have provided training to. I have taught classes for others. I have taught my own, developed from scratch classes. I have written books about a variety of topics and countless thousands of articles now.

I have never taught to meet any administrative measure beyond number of hours dedicated to the topic. I have taught skills, process, protocol, policy and more. In my profession (law enforcement) the ability to apply everything learned on demand as of value given the immediate circumstances is imperative. The failure to do so may mean not going home. It may mean dying… right there. That is, by anyone’s definition, the ultimate test of education. Have you learned something well enough to use it to stay alive?

Thankfully, that situation doesn’t apply to everyone; not quite so finitely anyway. When you think about it though, everything we learn is applied to how we live. Our parents and other family members teach us basic values and beliefs before we ever go to school. School SHOULD teach us some basic education and HOW to acquire more; how to think for ourselves. Beyond that we attain a profession and learn how to do the job position we fill. Virtually everything we learned from birth to… well, every day of our life, is used to help us live that life. It shapes our outlook, our values, our beliefs, how well management challenges, etc.

My point is that there is some education that is great for the classroom only. It’s either finite or theoretical and has very little “real world” application. Then there is the education we all get, while it might not be structured in the classroom setting, that we use to live our lives and progress, hopefully improving ourselves as an on-going process.

So, I’ll close with this: If you’re a teacher and all you teach is what a text book says or what a specific source cites as “correct,” then it’s quite possible you’re not teaching your students what is most beneficial for them in the long run. It’s quite possible you’re just teaching what you have to, taking no personal responsibility at all, and meeting all of the administrative requirements to continue collecting your paycheck. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re not a teacher at all (in my opinion). You’re an administrative processor, herding students through a school system that is being run like a business by accountants tasked to manage a minimum profit level. Ultimately the students will pay the price.

Keep that in mind as you so proudly tell people you’re a teacher. As you brag about being a teacher and hold yourself up as a protector of societal values: if all you’re doing is teaching and protecting the administrative values, then you’re doing society no good beyond babysitting.

The challenge is to teach your students the required material while also teaching them how to think for themselves AND not imparting any of your political values upon them. Can you do that? If so, I tip my hat to you and honor your commitment.

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