Letters to the Portland Phoenix Editor, September 16, 2011
While reading the article titled "Textbook Tragedy" by Thomas Page McBee in the September 9 issue, I was motivated to respond, specifically to the comment by Meira Levinson: "teaching the political issue, a military issue, an intercultural issue? You know, that's huge. You can't do all of those, right?" Why not? In fact, isn't that what good quality teaching is? How can it be called teaching if someone stands at the front of the class and delivers facts? A textbook can do that. Not to sound like a broken record, but a robot could do that.
Later in the article, she says the facts aren't enough — that what is needed is to teach the students why they are learning facts, why it is relevant, why it is important, so she does understand. She also understands that even though it is risky (to be teaching something to students that might be different than their parents' understanding and beliefs), but that it can't be avoided. I think that is what it means to be an educated teacher, not just an educated citizen.
I say this from the perspective of thinking for a while that I wanted to be a teacher, but after taking a few classes toward a teaching certificate after earning a BA in psychology, and teaching on a volunteer basis for a little while, I realized that what it meant to be a public-school teacher was not what I had in mind. I didn't want to just deliver the facts in a textbook, or to have to stick to a curriculum that didn't include the bigger picture. That is how I was taught history in high school, and I knew how limited it was. I knew what little understanding I had of history after graduating from high school, as well as my aversion to it. I was bored beyond words in during history and even most social-studies classes in high school. I was so unconnected to the events I learned about because were taught only the events and dates. We had to memorize them and regurgitate those facts back for exams. It was in my head long enough to be reported back and then gone. It could not be held without context, without a broader understanding of the intercultural, political, military, religious, and social facets. I'm pretty sure that I also probably napped (or otherwise didn't pay attention) often during history classes, and then later memorized what I needed to report back for the tests from the textbook.
I wish Chris Ougheltree had been one of my teachers. I am thrilled that he "decided to interpret the teaching standards . . . as a lens in which to teach civics, good citizenship, critical thought, and compassion." In my opinion, isn't that is what a good teacher does? I hope that is part of the job description for any educator.
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