Teachers try to explain evidence-based arguments, but are undermined by relentless jackassery from our elected leaders and presidential candidates.
AS our students read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the front-runner of a major party calls for registering all Muslims. Perhaps he will suggest star and crescent armbands, just in case. How about a movie? Let’s call it “The Eternal Muslim.” Maybe a ghetto is in order, just to make sure that nobody escapes the list.
When did the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders become a required text for understanding policy statements from our potential presidents? Enough already.
Teachers explain the scientific method while politicians still claim to have an open mind about climate change (except in Florida, where the governor has banned the term in state publications). Entities as diverse as Pepsi, the Obama administration and China have read the peer-reviewed science and called for drastic measures to halt global warming.
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In geography classes we teach that Antarctica is a continent with a vast ice cap. According to a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it is a gargantuan floating ice cube. Therefore it will not affect rising sea levels as it melts. Besides, we have to keep an open mind on that, regardless of the evidence.
Politicians who seem otherwise lucid and coherent embraced the birther controversy, claiming that an open debate was in order. Teachers try to explain evidence-based arguments, but are undermined by relentless jackassery from our elected leaders. Teachers explain that not all arguments are valid and that stupid ideas do not get equal time with basic facts.
I recall learning about the dangers of a political power-vacuum in a freshman history class, yet we are told that a good shock-and-awe campaign will bring peace, prosperity and democracy to the Middle East. Meanwhile, teachers dutifully trace the slow progress from Greece and Rome, the Viking courts, the Magna Carta, the Reformation and the Enlightenment that led to the Western democracies.
When told that the history of Afghanistan was complex and difficult to understand, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage famously replied, “History begins today.” That’s not what we teach in school. We try to explain that history informs our choices and helps us to make wise decisions. History covers a long time. That’s why it’s an academic discipline.
What is the point of teaching all this stuff if our leaders show nothing but contempt for science, history and scholarship? Don’t even get me started on the gap between a high-school debate class and a televised political “debate.” And yes, the broadcast media is also to blame as it provokes sound bites from apparently unbalanced candidates.
America has fared remarkably well with only two political parties. Now, however, liberal is a term of contempt. Conservative has come to mean lunatic. Those terms once described two reasoned worldviews that, in balance, have led to a prosperous, powerful, and free nation. Perhaps our elected leaders could simply look up the terms in a good dictionary and start from there.
Politicians like to blame the public schools for the problems of academic achievement in America. Cut funding and give more standardized tests. Crowded classrooms? No problem. Endemic poverty? Stuff and rubbish.
Please. Let’s have educated grown-ups in charge. I’d like to think that my elected officials could pass rudimentary high-school classes. Excellence in education can only happen if the whole nation values education. It’s not something that ends with competency tests in grade 4 or 10 or 12. Education is for life.