All the news that’s fit to teach: The battle for our students hearts and minds

The people who justify not approving math texts that advocate for including SEL (Social Emotional Learning) strategies use the seemingly legitimate argument that the function of math education is to teach students how to get the right answers and not to influence their emotions. This sounds good on the surface, as many right wing arguments do. It does not consider that there is math in everything we do; that knowing basic essential math helps a person function better in society. Learning how to express emotions, empathize and get along socially with others helps students learn how to use math principles, often subtly, in their daily lives to everyones benefit. Have you ever experienced irritation with a cashier unable to give you correct change?

A big part of the reason so many students think they will never use math after high school is that very idea that math is only used to get the right answer. Students know there is life after school. When it is implied that all you need to do in math class is get the right answer they figure it’s waste of their precious time. They dismiss math as worthless, just another useless part of a useless education. There is no connection to living a better life, with others, through math. This kind of thinking promotes not a love of learning but a disdain for education. It contributes to the continuous decline in critical thinking skills and social responsibility among Americans. The resulting tendency toward dependency on others to think for them makes them vulnerable to propaganda of all sorts. 

The multi pronged efforts of those advocating for ideas such as parental rights to choose what their children learn, stacking school districts, decrying diversity and diversity training, attacks on curriculum and control of textbooks, syphoning public money into private schools, denial of resources, covert and overt racism, mandates for strict standardized testing etc., represent a concerted effort to weaken public education to the point that it is ridiculed, reviled, and especially, defunded by disinterested families. Some of theses ideas have a semblance of legitimacy. Others are blatantly cruel. This strategy is designed to allow for sociopolitical control of the educational narrative and the concurrent control of it’’s content. This sort of control of education is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, largely because it works well in creating a supportive, compliant populace.

School is not a spectator sport. It needs to be participatory. Large numbers of students treat school as a necessary evil and actively resist learning to the point of chronic interruption of class and even threats to the well being of teachers. The claims behind the justification for ‘reform’, say that public education is failing, but fail to mention the major factor of so many indifferent, ill-prepared, and counter productive students entering the system. Parents these days seem to consider schools as nothing more than glorified day care centers and teachers as executive babysitters. The disinterest and disrespect their children show in the classroom make those claims of failure self fulfilling prophecies. When there is no interest in education in the home and there is a movement by many of the public to abandon public education how can the system inspire any child to strive for excellence and a love of learning. There is a selfish and parsimonious faction loathe to educate children who ‘don’t deserve it who are taking over school boards everywhere.

It is this disinterest in education and doubt of its value that has led to a never-ending generational cycle in many American families of discouraging the teaching anything of value to their precious progeny. A cycle that is difficult to break. When parents tell their children that school doesn’t matter it opens the door for external control of what exactly their children learn about the world. Either the parents themselves or other sociopolitical influencers will then offer their own alternate ‘truths’ to the student as a means to indoctrinate them in a particular ideology. This is done under the guise of telling the student ‘what your teachers and government don’t want you to know’. Once again we have a recipe for authoritarian control of the information available to our youth.

Somewhere in the last third of the twentieth century education took a right turn away from a goal of producing adults with critical thinking skills, respect for others, and the ability to adjust to the challenges of life. The new mantra was ‘we’ll get you ready for a job and don’t worry about the rest of that stuff because all you really need to succeed is money and the things it can buy’. Developing quality citizens capable of contributing to a thriving society began to take a back seat to preparing our youth to be cogs in the capitalist machine, capable only of following orders and being told what to think. The oligarchs pacify them through assurance of the opportunity to become bosses themselves and the ‘personal freedom’ to enjoy the creature comforts the exploitation of international workers provide for them.

Authoritarian types are very good at creating societal problems and then currying favor by magically coming up with ‘solutions’ to those problems. Of course, those solutions move the needle toward their own dominance. I’m not sure there are any immediate and viable solutions to these huge manufactured problems. The promises of the capitalists are hollow but they gleefully point out to the masses, over and over, the sad fact that no one else has solutions and at least they have a plan they say will work, eventually.

The only strategy that comes to mind for resolving this issue is taking children away from their parents’ influence and teaching them facts and debatable concepts with an honest, open and comprehensive approach, inclusive rather than exclusive. Of course, even if it is better for the student’s welfare and development this methodology is also somewhat authoritarian in nature. Parents and students alike will hate it and it’s proponents. It is as undesirable as the modern strategy of rejecting everything educational that makes anyone uncomfortable.

Many of the people who want to delete these uncomfortable truths purport to be strong Christians. Perhaps they have forgotten that Jesus exists not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable. Evidently they desire the Cliffs Notes method for entering heaven for themselves and their children. Sadly, they insist a theocratic authoritarian control of society through false promises of prosperity is the way to salvation of everyone.

Today there is such a broad range of attacks on public education that to neutralize their effects people will need to be strong in standing up to revisionist history and the ‘cancel culture’ of those afraid that teaching our children anything about feeling or thinking will lead them down a path of destruction and damnation. Their path of censorship and denial leads only to the destruction of American democracy as we have known it. How Orwellian to witness Americans being led down a path they think leads to the renewal of American pride and world dominance only to find that path leads to their oppression by the few, wealthy and white.

The wolves are at the doors of our classrooms.

Our living rooms are next.

Fear: Ideas and Things

I read an article today about several parents who pulled their children out of a freshman english class. They did not like a book the class was reading. The book addresses issues of race, with all the accompanying social and legal issues. The book ends with the death of a young black man at the hands of an off duty policeman. The parents say it is inappropriate reading for high school freshmen. They say it shows the police in a bad light and has sexuality and language they find objectionable. The school district stood up. They said it’s important for young people to know about the lives and challenges of people not like themselves. They created an opportunity for the parents to use an authorized alternative curriculum for their children. There are questions whether that effort will be successful.

This sort of thing happens all the time, everywhere across America. Parents want to protect their children. That is understandable. What they want to protect them from says a lot about who they are as parents and as people. Some people say they want to protect their children from things but they are really afraid of ideas. Others say they wish to shield their sons and daughters from ideas but they are actually frightened of things. All of these parents, with few exceptions, frankly seek to protect their children from learning how not to be afraid of the things or ideas they themselves are afraid of. They do this instead of protecting them from what can cause real trauma. This is a shame. But it is a function of being human. We all feel our fears are legitimate and it is our duty to teach our children to fear them as well.

These unfortunate ways of looking at life influences many of the ideas and things a person believes in and does, from their political philosophies and social mores to their concepts of family discipline, reward, and punishment. These sorts of suspect actions take place among all demographics. No one is spared from the consequences of distorting how they present their worst fears to future generations. We all need to honestly examine our deepest fears and how we express them. They come from our unconscious minds and are difficult to access. But if we want to evolve as a species this task must be done.

I’ve started taking an inventory of my most unfounded fears. We all should. I hope yours aren’t as challenging as mine.