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Educator/alum addresses school reformers

Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 12:00pm

Some great plain talk on school reform from Franklin College alumnus and Clarke Central High School literature teacher Ian Altman in the Washington Post:

7. Don’t tell us to leave politics out of the classroom. 

Don’t be naïve.  Learning always has some kind of political efficacy. Some opinions are more sensible than others, some arguments stronger than others, some interpretations and theories better supported than others. It is okay to say so out loud.  One need not disparage another to do so, and good teachers do not shy away from it.

For example, the theory of intelligent design made a big splash a few years ago among creationists who insist that evolution is merely an unproven theory on equal footing with other theories in the “marketplace of ideas.” It is very easy to show two vitiating things: there is no contravening scientific evidence against evolution, and intelligent design derives from Aristotle’s teleological argument which was soundly critiqued by David Hume and Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century.

Explaining these things to students will harm one side of the political spectrum more than the other. As far as I’m concerned, that is the fault of the politicians themselves for getting involved in classroom issues that are beyond their legitimate concern as politicians. They can say whatever they want, of course, but it is acceptable academic practice to teach why and how their arguments are strong or weak, and it’s not our fault if that involves politics, too.

Verbal logic and argumentation are the province of English teachers, especially now that under Common Core, we are told we have to teach more non-fiction texts. I expect all my students to learn how to argue sensibly and with decency, seeking the truth rather than just defeating the opposition, and I expect them to push those arguments with each other and with me.  The vitality of my classes depends on it.

Too many people never learn how to discuss and debate sensibly and with decency. Too many people are trained to shy away from controversial ideas for the sake of being polite because confrontation might be considered embarrassing or impolitic. My students will not fall to those trappings if I can help it. I will continue to do everything I can, as a teacher and as a citizen, to disrupt everybody’s settled thoughts.

Stirring comment from one of our nation's very brightest and caring educators. Our public schools are lucky to have faculty like Altman and so many others who, not only understand all of the pieces of the education reform puzzle but arr willing to speak out out about them eleoquently and publicly. Keep it up, Mr. Altman. Read the whole thing.

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