Our kids are heading (back) to school. Across provinces and states, parents are once again delegating, for a time, a portion of their educational duties to teachers of all stripes and persuasions.
What kind of teachers do we want our children to learn from?
As we heard in the recent discussion here on the Cardus blog about the Loyola high school case, the designers of Quebec's Ethics and Religion Culture (ERC) curriculum suggest that we want teachers who are disinterested or neutral. But this cannot be what is the optimal or even desired standard for our teachers, can it?
Teachers, for the importance of their role, have long been the object of suspicion from all sides. Liberals fear and work to minimalize teachers who will hamper progress and prevent the emergence of an enlightened populace; conservatives fear and work to minimalize teachers with a liberal agenda will turn children against the values that they (conservatives) assert are foundational.
Quebec is just the latest jurisdiction to hit on a brilliant solution: reducing the exercise of education to "neutrality," neutering educational conversations until they are strictly about knowledge transfer, the equivalent of wiki-classes.
I assert that this is not, by any definition, education. The false assertion of "neutral education" obeys neither proper pedagogy nor, I suppose, reality.
I lean to the conservative side of the politic spectrum, and I am a Christian. Nevertheless, my favourite professors in university were the radicals and Marxists, at a university known for its liberal leanings. They were memorable teachers. They taught through discussion, argument, evaluation. And yes, they wore their biases proudly on their sleeves and welcomed reasoned, impassioned argument and disagreement. But luckily for me, the operative word here is that they taught, and they were given the freedom to do so! This is not to suggest that this approach is entirely appropriate for a high school classroom, but neither is the fallacious notion of neutrality.
What kind of teacher do I want for my kids?
I know, as an educator, that real learning does not occur unless our passions are engaged. My desired high school teacher is one that creates a safe place for my daughters to be excited about learning, for discussion that involves real conversations. Pedagogically, this is known as Bloom's Taxonomy, where 'knowledge' is only the first stage of a learning process that includes comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating. The evaluation stage of this pedagogy includes comparing and discriminating between ideas as well as assessing evidence, assessing the value of ideas, then making choices based on reasoned arguments.
Some may suggest that this is a risky proposition. I agree—it requires skilled teachers indeed. But I have far greater fear for the alternative, where generations of young people grow up without wrestling with belief, multi-sided arguments, or bias. Our current educational system, at least under Quebec's ERC curriculum, does not want students to progress past the comprehension stage. For me, this is a risk too great.
As a parent, I must accept that teachers are included in this old adage: everyone is a believer; the question is in what? On the bright side, it also means that our family's dinner conversations may have the possibility of focusing on politics, belief systems, theology, and philosophy as opposed to the mindless minutia of popular culture.
Our children's teachers already engage students in distinguishing true, good, and healthy cultural ideas and practices from those that harm and tear down. Let us not allow Quebec, or any other jurisdiction, to throw out the baby of learning with the bathwater of agendas. I hope we send our kids (back) to good high school teachers who will engage students at the highest levels of learning, acknowledging that this is not just a function, but central to learning.