Tolerance

How will you use your local community as a resource for teaching social studies? How will you generalize and connect what the students learned about their local community to the world community?

As has been discussed in prior classes, my community is small, with little by way of significant cultural or social resources. However, being adjacent to Los Angeles, we have many resources nearby. One resource I feel very strongly about is the Museum of Tolerance. This is an emotional stretch for 5th graders, but a valuable one. At this museum, the children will learn about intolerance and its devastating consequences. This museum is local, but its subject is often events far from California. Still, it has exhibits on “Segregation in California” and particular emphasis on the situation of hispanic immigrants. No doubt, for some of my students, this later subject is anything but hypothetical.

What I particularly love about this museum (in addition to the overall message) is the lesson that little injustices can balloon into very big ones, that every little prejudice is a tiny Holocaust and a potential building block for a tragedy. Finally I love that it helps us to see that we are all potential victims and victimizers, that self-reflection and sensitivity is a life long discipline.

There are many less weighty resources as well: community groups from nearby representing particular ethnicities, enthusiasts in particular subject matter (from Civil War reenactors to model plane builders to dance lovers) and museums of many varieties. Everything is local and global. We are unified by the human experience. The challenge for a teacher is to be alert for the themes that tie us to the global community (and them to us) and be quick to share those with our students.

Advertisements

Oops, Evolution!

Ok, having just commented on religious holidays, it’s time to move on to creationism. Apparently it is my day to live dangerously. 🙂 All the caveats of my prior post apply, especially that I mean no offence and that my motives are purely academic. 😉

To leave creationism and evolutionism completely out of school discussions is a powerful null curriculum.

Personally, I think elements of our society have taken both sides of this controversy to untenable extremes. Science is about hypotheses and the constantly evolving understanding of the universe. The exploration and discovery of nature (of which evolution is a part) is an unending process. Discussing the evolution of evolutionary theory is a fascinating and wonderful exploration of sciences at its best (and most dramatic). Yet, some of the evolutionists make Evolution into its own kind of religion, a dogma. On the other hand, religion is about faith. Faith is believing things that can’t be proven. That’s fine. But things that can’t be proven can’t be taught as fact in a secular curriculum. Having said that, creationism does have its place in the discussion of nature. It is a powerful social meme and we have a rich social history of the tension between the two poles. In fact, it is a brilliant teaching opportunity, ripe with nuance and knowledge.

My very favorite part of the story is that the science text John Scopes used to teach evolution (Hunter, 1914) contained a number of ‘scientific’ conclusions about the relative inferiority of various ‘races’, which it also defined, and the ‘benefits’ of eugenics. Really, it’s breathtaking the number of wonderful lessons this controversy contains. By teaching this story, we can teach the distinction between faith and knowledge. We can teach the nature of ‘knowing’. We can teach the evolution of science. We can teach how culture interacts with science. We can teach knowledge and the nature of living a faith-based life. It is an enormous loss to society that we mostly choose to include this in the null curriculum. Doing so is a kind of de facto censorship and it serves and honors no one.

As with religious holidays, in a school environment I would tread lightly. But, unlike religion as a whole or religious holidays as extension of religion, this controversy has its roots in tangibles that can be examined and discussed. As in all things, there is room for like minded individuals to disagree at the end of the discussion. But those from either extreme who seek to close the conversation are violating one of the core principals of liberal, democratic society dating back 2,500 years.

To me the discussion should not be if it is taught but how it is taught.

Reference

Hunter, G. (1914). A civic biology: presented in problems. New York, NY: American Book Co.

Oops, Religion

I wouldn’t normally stick my nose into a discussion of religion but we do have a participation requirement and this topic is interesting to me. Please understand I mean no offence and that I am commenting purely out of academic motives (pardon the pun).

I certainly agree that religious instruction has no place in public education. On a very basic level, the separation of church and state in the constitution means that there is no ‘public’ religion to be instructed and therefore any religious instruction is an intrusion.

Having said that, my personal belief is that respecting differences (which I agree with very much) is more about allowing each to have their own. In a public environment, it seems unfortunate to me to allow what is permissible to be defined by what no religion prohibits. This is an odd definition of tolerance, tolerating being imposed upon by another’s beliefs. As a parent, I would prefer if schools simply let families opt out of events and occasions they find religiously (or otherwise, for that matter) problematic. On the other hand, I am eager to have my daughter learn the traditions of other cultures and religions in school. This makes her more worldly and more tolerant. After her Presbyterian pre-school burned down in the 2008 fires, they were housed in the local Jewish center for a year. There they could only have kosher lunches and they joined in the Shabbat celebrations on Fridays. It was great!

One of the side effects of this aspect of the first amendment is that the government is mostly not even allowed to make judgements about what is a religion. This being the case, the circle of who can outlaw what in a classroom becomes very wide indeed. Pretty much anybody who wants to call themselves a religion has the right to an equal legal voice. Typically, religious celebrations are about the nature of life, its joy and its sadness. To move through the weeks as a school community without them (with all of them) would be very dull and oppressive. It also becomes a null curriculum of a kind – teaching the students that some things can’t or shouldn’t be discussed.

Anyway, I trust I haven’t given offense. And as a teacher I would step MUCH more carefully, including considering the option of avoiding certain concepts, events or activities if necessary.