After reading the Teacher's at Risk blog post from a few minutes a go, I don't know what makes me angrier at this scenario.
This teacher quotes an article from the Mississauga News:
“A grade six student at St. Sebastian Elementary School has been censored by his principal after writing a speech about being bored in class…”My message is to you,” he (the student) writes in his speech, “let nobody steal your joy by keeping you bored. Find a way out. To be happy is your purpose in life.”
Oh, my goodness.
#1 The student was asked to write a speech. The student wrote a speech.
The student did that and a quite moving one at that! Now, I disagree that one's purpose in life is to just “be happy,” however, if the classroom is devoid of happiness and the excitement of learning, something is fundamentally wrong!
#2 Students have a right to their opinion.
If I'm bored, I'm bored. I have a student that stays bored in one of my classes much of the time because he says, “Mrs. Vicki, its not you, but I don't really like computers.” He'd rather be doing something else. Now, I really work hard to make it interesting for him.
That is why this 8 week assessment is what I'm calling my Passion Driven Learning project. (It is still in progress, so don't rush to judge the wikis!) The students have selected a “major” and are looking at the computer hardware and software for their “major.” This does fascinate him! So, I have given him something to be passionate about in a subject that doesn't bear inherent interest for him.
This being said. If my student is bored and says he's bored, as long as he doesn't “cuss me out” or harm another student… that's his opinion and he has a right to it. (The article says that administration determined that it was disrespectful to a teacher.)
This is not a place we censure students for having opinions unlike ours! This is a place where we encourage opinions and free speech. (Of course, the school is a private Catholic school and I too am at a private school, but this is a little extreme.)
As with all stories, there are certainly two sides to this one and we are only getting one. We also, haven't read the speech. I do believe it is important that teachers are treated with respect and my students do prepend my name with “Mrs.” However, on the surface, such thinking as represented in this article is wrong.
Don't think this is isolated
This is the thinking that tells teachers that they cannot blog and express their opinions about work or about personal items because either can be construed as unprofessional. (See the Pennsylvania Teachers Association blogging ethics guidelines.)
What is this place that no longer allows us to disagree with our employer or the place where we go to school?
Yes, I have conservative values but I also believe in the value of democracy. And although I do not take the Lord's name in vain, I believe in the free choice that allows humans to decide whether they wish to or not. (I do however, retain the right to enforce our school's rules on no profanity in my room but if a student wished to write a speech about how I was wrong that would be OK.) That is democracy and I believe that it is a God-given right for humans to be able to determine their own beliefs and express them.
Somehow this fits with a system that doesn't allow students to blog or wiki or podcast. Big Brother is watching and he doesn't want you to say anything that makes him look bad.
Now, do not think that all schools are like this. There are many progressive, amazing schools like mine and others who offer the best education has to offer in meaningful, exciting ways for students. But there seem to be so many more who let fear drive their curriculum. (See my last post about the wiki project that is shut down because of a fear of wikis!)
Faithfulness in a world gone crazy
I read a quote from Mother Teresa tonight. She said,
“I do not pray for success. I pray for faithfulness.”
In teaching, I honestly don't think we arrive to a point of “success” I was listening to blogging expert Anne Davis talk about a project she did with fifth graders earlier in the year “That didn't work” and it hit me — as long as I teach humans and remain human, there will be wins and losses.
I need faithfulness for honestly, as a teacher, I may have successful moments but I don't know that I will ever be 100% successful.
Education is messy and the World is wrinkled
Education is messy — it is about learning and no one comes into a subject knowing it all, not even the teacher. The world is also not flat, it is wrinkled and high speed internet access is irrelevant if you filter out everything that you try to access.
And in this messy classroom with wrinkled internet access, it is important that students be allowed to have a voice.
For truly, one's opinion is their last, sacred frontier and it belongs truly to the one who houses the grey sky of their own mind. We must harness that power of opinion to teach and never seek to carbon copy ourselves. That, my friend, is brainwashing and it has no place in a democracy. I have to wonder if in many places, not just this one school, if we are not seeing the roots of censorship spring.
The Death of a Future
Beware letting wrong take root
though today it be a tiny weed,
Tomorrow it may overshadow all
and kill the future seed.
(Yes, I write poetry too.)
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