A couple weeks ago after a fundraising event at my school, I was cleaning up and putting things away. The music students and several parent volunteers had just finished making 600 apple pies from scratch (well, we buy the dough… we learned the hard way that making the dough too was too much). For our annual Apple Pie Make, the students pre-sell pies, make them all in one night, and then deliver them on Saturday before Thanksgiving to their customers. We start right after school on the Friday cutting and peeling apples, mixing the spices and sugar, and loading them into pie shells. We usually finish anywhere between 11 pm and 2 am depending on the year. It’s a blast!
Anyway, this particular year we wrapped up around 11:30 pm and everything was set up in the cafeteria for distribution the next day. I was walking back to the music wing to do one last check before I left and I stumbled upon one of the other music teachers and a couple of his students. My colleague was playing some music he’d written for the students to garner their opinions. I joined them because anything my colleague writes is worth listening to… he’s good! Thoughts of getting home and going to sleep left my mind.
After a couple of songs, he offered up the lyrics on a song he was working on that had some political themes (don’t worry, this blog isn’t political, so I won’t mention the actual subject matter). He was trying to present both sides of the argument so that the listener could not discern his own personal beliefs on the subject. It was masterful!
He and I started discussing the issues surrounding the subject of the song and became engaged in political debate. The discussion was respectful and honest, as he and I are good friends, but it was obvious we had differences. The students in the room backed out the room slowly, stunned and maybe a little frightened. What was this thing, this… this civil discourse? They’d never seen anything like it… they had to get outta there!
(just kidding! :-P)
Anyway, we ended up talking until 4 am. It was then that we realized what time it was and that we should go home immediately. We headed out, laughing at ourselves and the ridiculous situation in which we found ourselves. It was wonderful!
You’ll be happy to know that this did not violate my School Board’s policy on “Staff Participation in Political Activities”, which I am sad to say I looked up afterward because I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had somehow done something wrong. But this brings up an interesting question:
Why is it frowned upon to openly discuss difficult subjects in our schools?
Ideas (including claims of religion and politics) are things to be tested, tried, and shared. If they are found to be true, ideas can be the foundation for a person’s worldview to be built. Our worldview informs everything that we perceive, think, feel, and do. If our philosophies or conceptions are never challenged, our worldviews can never mature, and therefore neither can the way we handle in a mature way the world around us. The ideas of our youth are rarely challenged; they’re fed certain ideas early on by their school, media, and social media and then reinforced through high school and college.
The philosophies behind education have been various and many. From Aristotle and Plato to John Dewey and George Counts, thinkers have had opinions and ideas about what education should be in society. Very often the morality and values of the student are at the heart of what educators envision the perfect school should be built around; yet if we don’t discuss on what (or whom) those morals and values are grounded in, we may be dismayed to see the directions our students will go.
I understand being a teacher in a public school system disqualifies me from being as forthcoming about my faith in Jesus as I want to be. And I don’t necessary think this limitation is a bad thing, as I’ll discuss in a future article. However, our society espouses certain things that are “good” or “true” without valuing frank and open discussion as to why those things are “good” or “true.” If we can’t discuss these things without being shouted down or shunned, how can we discover which ideas are best?
The moment we stop and stake out our position and shut down discussion on the pros and cons of that position is the moment we begin stagnation and decay. Kids need to see and be part of civil, honest discussions, whether political, religious or otherwise. I had opinions when I was a kid, and I was terribly wrong (anyone else remember screaming “That’s not fair!” to a parent?)!
Only by evaluating their beliefs and ideas will our youth ever begin to understand whether they’re correct or not.