Sunday, March 05, 2006

We Need Debate, Not Derision

I came across an excellent post from Doug Dickerson

"The partisan rhetoric coming from the liberal and conservative camps is part of a vital open debate in our republic. Yet when the rhetoric of extreme partisans from both sides goes unchecked, the message and the messenger are somehow perceived as being credible, and that is dangerous.

"When Harry Belafonte stands beside an evil dictator in Venezuela and calls President Bush the worst terrorist in the world, the rhetoric is a dangerous lightning bolt of destruction. When Pat Robertson says (even when he later apologizes for saying) that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s life-threatening stroke is judgment from God, that is destructive. When Howard Dean says that race plays a factor in who receives help after Hurricane Katrina and who doesn’t, that is destructive. When Cindy Sheehan attends a protest in Caracas and says of Hugo Chavez, “I admire him for his resolve against my country,” that is certainly destructive.

"No doubt, the debate in America has grown increasingly destructive and personal. Differences of opinion and politics are now personal attacks rather than honest debates. Simply watch any cable news evening talk show and listen for civility. It’s increasingly hard to find."

Read the full post here. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Teacher Suspended for Anti-Bush Lecture

About 150 high school students walked out of class to protest a decision to put a teacher on leave while they investigate remarks he made about President Bush in class, including that some people compare Bush to Adolf Hitler. The full report from ABC News is here.

This is a tricky issue. The discussion of the merits of both sides here can leave you turning your head left and right like the audience at a tennis match.

  • The teacher does have a captive, impressionable audience --- but the teacher's job is to TEACH, not just parrot facts.
  • This was a GEOGRAPHY class, after all, not a History, Social Studies or Political Science class --- but any discussion of geography must include the reasons why it's important to our life and society.
  • Another poster here who said they heard the tape said "the guy was foaming at the mouth, but everything he said was TRUE." Man, whaddaya say to that?

All I can do is offer up what I'd have done were I the teacher. I'd set aside a portion of the class for the STUDENTS to debate these issues. Let them do their research, help them if they get facts wrong, challenge the assumptions of BOTH SIDES in order to ensure that they know any claims they make will be scrutinized and should be substantiated.

A teacher shouldn't just teach facts. They should teach their students how to think. That includes how to research an issue and how to present and defend their point of view or any set of conclusions they come to.

Only after all this was done would I as the teacher offer my own opinions, and only if asked by the class. I would expect my students to hold me to the same standards I held them to.

Any other airing of my opinions would be confined to after class, and only if a student -- or anyone else - specifically asked me.

Should the kid be ostracized for recording his teacher and 'reporting' him? Well, if he was feeling profoundly uncomfortable, browbeaten or propagandized, then NO. This is not someone 'ratting out' another person to the authorities because of what the authorities want. That was the case in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. In this case the kid was reporting the teacher because of what he was feeling and thinking. It was entirely appropriate.

The main offense here is a loss of perspective on the part of the teacher as to what his role should be, and how he should best do his job, which is to teach kids to think. Nothing more, nothing less.