Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Previously I wrote about my struggles with being honest and transparent as a teacher. Though I have not come much closer to figuring out that problem, I have come up with another problem about honesty, opinions, and being a teacher. This time instead of wondering how open I should be about my opinions, I am now wondering how open I should be about my feelings about student's opinion. Though this new problem is related, it has several different implications and problems.

As a teacher, and therefore a public role model, I should encourage acceptance of others and the ideas of others. Though this sounds obvious, what about when someone's opinion seems wrong or even damaging. Sure I cringed when some of my students aligned themselves with Rush Limbaugh, but I don't show that to my students. I make myself appear to be more open to different political beliefs than I really am.

Making a more extreme line of thought, what if one of my students was a Nazi? Sure this is one of those forced hypotheticals that typically get on my nerves (much like the common challenge to pacifism involving my family being attacked while a gun is in my hand), this issue has really attached itself to my brain. What if a student really thought through Nazism and decided it was a good idea. I'm not talking genocide, but I do mean a socialist government that supports itself monetarily by exported all non-whites, thus dramatically lowering the population size being cared for by the state.

Now I clearly do not like this student's beliefs, but how hard should I challenge this student if the issue is brought up in front of the rest of class. Where is the line between being honest about my opinions and seeking to be publicly open to different people and their beliefs. Put in simpler terms: on a spectrum of critically close minded to openly accepting of everything, where should I be placed in order to be the best example and role model that I can be. Also, is it good or bad for me to appear, to my students, to be elsewhere on this spectrum than I really am?

Well, now I know what to ponder over summer.


Liz said...

It's a difficult question to be sure. Your answer depends on a couple of different realities, the age of your students being the most important in my opinion. I think the crucial thing is to make sure your students are well informed. It is one thing to accept your students' views as valid when you simply have different opinions on the subject. It is another issue entirely when you see a student blindly follow/accept a damaging ideology. I know (and you do too) that my opinions and beliefs were shaped and strengthened when they were challenged by people (including teachers) who knew more than I did. Sometimes, though, I did not respond well to the way in which these people challenged me (Mr. Leonard's diatribe against the Confederate flag comes to mind.). One of your greatest gifts is that you are a very empathetic person. In the end, you have to look at each student and situation individually and answer two questions. One is whether they know what they are talking about and, by of equal importance, do you have information that will lead them to a more informed decision? The second is whether you think they can emotionally take open challenge. Thank you for successfully distracting me from the paper for which I should be researching! See you soon!

Liz said...

replace the "by" with "and"