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Take a Stand for Not Taking a Stand

July 2, 2009
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I attended a staff retreat this past weekend that tested my (in)ability to pick sides. During one workshop called “Take a Stand for Education”, we were asked to stand up, and then as a series of statements were presented, we walked to one side of the room or the other to indicate whether we agreed with them. Some of them were easy enough – “I am familiar with so-and-so’s philosophy on such-and-such,” etc. – but others had me floundering:

“I believe that all education is political.”
Well, hmm. I don’t know. I don’t like that little word “all”. It’s too absolute. But how exactly do you want to define “education”? And how do you want to define “political”? Is it still education when someone goes to the library on their own initiative and picks up a book to learn Swahili? Is that a political act? Is everything political?

“I teach adults the same way I would teach high school students.”
This one seems obvious at first – no, of course I don’t. Adults choose to be there; high school kids do not, and so need to be pressured and monitored and disciplined. Adults can work more independently. High school kids are less in control of their emotions. Right? Well, actually, I’m not so sure. I’d very much like to see high school kids taught the same way as adults. Why shouldn’t they have more autonomy, more say in their own education? Because the public school system makes it nearly impossible, that’s why.

“I would rather teach college-level courses than Basic Education.”
I took the “disagree” side for this one, because no, I wouldn’t rather teach college-level courses. On the other hand, I wouldn’t rather teach Basic Education, either. Why do I have to pick one? Maybe I would be equally happy to teach one or the other.

I was almost tempted to stand in the middle of the room and refuse to walk to one side or the other for several of these questions. Instead, I made sure to pipe up during the discussion and explain my ambivalence about the side I’d chosen to stand on.

It was a good exercise, actually; I’m not trying to criticize it. (And I learned an awful lot of interesting factoids over the course of the weekend. Did you know that the brain is the most complex system in the known universe? Did you know that the stress hormone cortisol kills brain cells? Did you know that children who walk too early may not develop the necessary foundation for good reading and writing skills later in life?) I’m also certainly not trying to imply that I don’t have opinions on anything – there are many things I feel strongly about. I guess I just prefer to take the time to look at things from many angles, discuss different ideas, try to understand opposing points of view, rather than simply standing mutely in one corner or another, and allowing that (in)action to speak for itself.

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