Things I Know 118 of 365: I object and everyone else should too

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

– Howard Zinn

I wonder how often teachers encourage their students to disagree. For all of the talk of student-centeredness, I think we miss it by miles.

Disagreement or discourse strikes me as a hallmark of a truly student-centered learning environment.

As I wrote a couple days ago, I submitted a course reflection Saturday that voiced my dissent from the learning module I just completed.

In one section, I admitted to doing the opposite of what was asked of me.

I only wrote the reflection after some calculations revealed I would still earn an A in the course even if I didn’t complete the assignment at all.

Only when my dissent couldn’t be held against me did I feel comfortable voicing it. This within the bounds of an academic institution.

In a place of learning, dissent should be welcomed. It should be encouraged. It should be expected.

I’m tempted to qualify that expectation with terms of civility, but I realize dissent sometimes erupts from a place where the bridge to civil discourse has long since been burned.

Often, when I encourage my students to ask questions, I’m really encouraging only those questions that imply agreement.

“Question,” I seem to be saying, “but make them questions about how and not why.”

Though these implications don’t show it, I’m fine with my students questioning my authority.

I must be.

My hope is that they will move on to question those in authority on a regular basis. I can’t work toward that with the caveat of “Question authority, just not mine” and then hope for any kind of real trust.

It’s the kind of questioning I would have hoped for when Gov. Chris Christie spoke last week at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

To what the New York Times called a “polite and subdued” crowd, Gov. Christie said, “You are among the leaders of our educational future,” he said, “and if you’re not disrupted yet, I’m going to disrupt you now.”

I suppose that’s what I’m hoping for as a teacher. I want to disrupt and challenge the thinking of my students about everything from social issues to parts of speech.

Like Christie, though to a lesser extent, my rhetoric discourages my audience from working to disrupt me.

“Others, yes, disrupt others, but trust me, I’m the teacher.”

The crowd should have disrupted Christie.

They should have asked him the difficult questions that required him to be the most thoughtful and intelligent version of himself.

Whether they agreed with him or not, those in attendance should have demanded clarity when Gov. Christie referred to the NJ teachers’ union as “a political thuggery operation.” If they are the leaders of our educational future, then they should have asked the millions of questions they would hope to pour from students in any similar situation.

They should have asked more.

They should have required of him the same kind of explanation and thinking any math teacher requires when asking students to show their work.

They should have asked for the same reason any student should demand an explanation beyond, “Because I’m the teacher, that’s why.”

Gov. Christie, though, is not one to show his work, nor has he shown himself to be skilled in civil discourse. Instead, he wraps his opinions around bricks he throws through the ideological windows of those who stand in opposition.

It’s not enough to have an opinion, teachers (and governors) must be able to substantiate those opinions with something other than bricks.


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