Should teachers advocate for particular views?Posted: February 19, 2017
My grandmother was a singer. She suffered from nerves and had a way of coping with this fear that she shared with me whenever I was involved in a school performance. “I sang for the mayor,” she would explain, “and I told myself that he’s only a man in a pair of trousers.”
This is the key insight of adulthood. Adam and Eve didn’t grow up because they became aware of their nakedness, they grew up because they became aware of their own, and everyone else’s, flaws. As children, we idolise our parents. As teenagers, we see their imperfections. This is why we like movies with heroes in them. They send us back to childhood.
Teachers live in this twilight. Students are inclined to believe us. Why? Well, the past generations of children who accepted an adult’s assertion that putting their hands in the fire was a bad idea are the ones that grew up to have children of their own.
And this provides temptation. Should we shape future minds? Should we ensure that children grow up to be right-thinking?
As a science teacher, I often hit upon existential problems. Personally, I find evolution and the Big Bang far easier to accept than the sheer immensity of the universe, but it is these first two that cause the trouble.
Sure, I have ideas. And I think the world would be a better place if everyone else shared them. I have a wholly eccentric view of quantum mechanics that I think should be more mainstream. But it isn’t. So I could use my position to push these views.
I don’t, of course. That would be wrong. If kids ask me what I think, I’ll tell them. But I’ll also let them know that my opinions aren’t fact and that they should seek a range of views from their parents and the people around them.
You see, everyone I admire has been wrong about something. Newton was an alchemist. Einstein couldn’t accept the uncertainty of quantum physics. Why should I be different? Propagating my own views is a fairly limited aim. Passing on the enabling knowledge to allow students to critique views and form their own opinions is a thing worth pursuing.
If I were a humanities teacher, I wouldn’t impose my politics on students, implicitly or explicitly. If asked, I’d say what I thought but that’s about it. I may, and I do, have strong views and opinions. But the means of preying on a student’s tendency to trust their teacher do not justify the ends of promoting my political goals because I might be wrong.