"Why are you a teacher Mr. McCullough?"
-8th Grade Student 2003
It was my second year of teaching and I was working my way around the classroom checking up on students' projects. I remember being overwhelmed by the classroom management needed for this 'leadership project' that I had created and had at times pondered the above question myself well before a middle school boy asked me the above question.
The young man's project was focused on Mahatma Gandhi who, as most people know, was assassinated for his differing principals from some of those who controlled and resided in his country including Muslim, Hindu and British citizens.
My knee-jerk reaction was, "I teach to combat ignorance in the face of difference...much like the man in your project!" This seemed to answer the student who went right back to work. Quite proud of myself for coming up with something so witty on the spot, I jotted the thought down when I later made it up to my desk but really didn't give it a second thought.
Fast forward a few years as I am now a Michigan Education Voice Fellow. We were tasked with thinking about what we were passionate about in education and taking a stance and setting a platform on that topic. After stumbling on that note I had jotted down of "combating ignorance in the face of difference..." I think I found my calling.
Okay Matt, so what does all this have to do with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders...did you just stick them in the title to get us to read this piece?
Ummmm, yes. I thought it would entice you to read this, but no it wasn't a mindless insert. In my humble opinion, both of these gentlemen represent our society's end to be complacent with the status quo. No matter which of these men you agree with or if you think they are both 'ignorant' they do have the public's attention since they are significantly different than the standard platforms and tactics of the parties they are representing historically. They are forcing a change in the conversation leading up to next year's election and forcing people to look at issues in a nontraditional light. I believe they are both in the news and drawing attention, possibly even as 3rd party candidates, because people want something different for their traditional institutions. Their talking points are forcing people to discuss their difference from the usual R vs. D speak and forcing many of us to understand their platform before lashing out that they are 'wrong'.
Many educators are beginning to 'step out' of the traditional model of instruction and asking questions of why we have always done things the same here in the United States. The 100+ year-old SAT has changed and modernized in the last year. More teachers are beginning to be led by teachers and not by traditional administrators/managers. Student exams are disappearing and being replaced by projects and portfolios. Standards based learning/grading is beginning to replace the traditional A-F rank and sorting of students. The growth mindset that all students can achieve is replacing the traditional fixed mindset that intelligence is inherited and innate. Even the year-old MSTEP here in Michigan has changed at the clamoring of students, teachers and families as our own Michigan Department of Education agreed that length and style needed to be updated.
Now this question goes out to you. Do you follow the trend due to external pressures, easement, or uncertainty? Or do you follow the waves that have been and are being set in motion to make a change from traditional and outdated models? Do you combat your or other's ignorance with a thirst to learn the why of new things and people? I personally plan to entertain all possibilities when it comes to education and support the search for schools and tools that would freak out traditionalists and move us ahead as a society. I will continue to combat ignorance when educators are faced with and resist innovative new ways to approach teaching and learning. I will support those in our communities who say "...it worked for me..." by showing them we no longer live in the society they grew up in.
"We've always done it this way..." isn't something The Donald, Bernie or Gandhi would have uttered or followed and I for one plan to try my best to embody it's opposite. I plan to combat ignorance in the face of a differing educational landscape.