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Making School the Happiest Place on Earth

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Nigel
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I am a teacher. My new principal is having all the teachers do a book study on the Disney business model. Part of this will inevitably include a discussion of the idea that when you are in front of customers (in front of students) you are on stage. This would mean drawing some sort of line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in front of students.

Now, I strive to act ethically in my professional en devours (personal as well), but this includes acting with integrity. If a student asks me why the punishment for possessing crack is more severe than the punishment for possessing cocaine, I do not hesitate to agree that this is an example of racism. If a student asks me why he or she has to learn about the types of radioactive decay, I tell the student that it must be learned because the state says that students must learn this in order to graduate. On that same note, I will also explain the importance of learning a topic that is more valuable such as classifying living organisms (grouping and classifying anything into logical, functional groupings is an important skill that is modeled in several areas of science).

In short, I believe that it is important to be honest and upfront with my students. My students are not kids. They are high school dropouts, most between the ages of 17 and 20. Therefore, I don't sugar coat things, I model integrity. But on controversial issues, I will explain conflicting viewpoints and allow students to form their own opinions, an example is my unwillingness to overtly express my views on abortion or same sex marriage.

My question is (without addressing the obvious flaws in education), is it ethical for teachers to sugar coat things for students in an effort to produce a desired outcome. For example, many teachers act as if the subject matter that they teach carries extreme importance and benefit to students' futures. I teach science and willingly acknowledge that several topics are fairly useless in the greater scheme of things. I encourage students to google answers on assignments because I feel that finding answers to questions on one's own is a necessary skill. My philosophy on teaching high school dropouts is that getting through and graduating is far more important than learning the content, and I allow students to submit what would be considered below adequate work for credit. The reality is that most of my students will not go on to college or pursue careers requiring advanced levels of scientific knowledge, and, in my opinion, those who do pursue these more ambitious paths will have the drive and determination necessary to overcome any shortcomings in their high school education. Success in college is not so much a matter of prior knowledge as it is a matter of drive to get a degree (if student must take a remedial course to overcome gaps in previous learning, so be it). Is this ethical? I am clearly undervaluing what the state has identified as important (but my school has not and will not criticize my position, and I made sure that the school would not have a problem with this philosophy before overtly expressing it).

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Sugar coating is "moral" only when the students are unable to understand the truth. For example evolution. If you put drosophila on cold, in a few generation it will adapt to cold. Same goes for hot. The truth however is that you don't see evolution since no new genes have been added or replaced. It had already had the genes to survive in hot and cold so it can adapt more quickly, which is obvious evolutionary advantage. Even though you are not making a valid example, it is very practical.

Otherwise, go for the truth :P

Edited by Pigsaw
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I won't answer your question right now. Being a high-school student myself, I shall merely quote myself from a recent letter whose main excuse to go over the philosophic system is indeed education:

"If I were a teacher, I would allow my students to avoid attendance---which would wipe out interruption in the classroom---yet make my lessons interesting. I would make my students think good, rather than memorize whatever I would write on the board. I would encourage and demand that they inquire "why" as for anything crucial, and frequently ask whether they fully understood my meaning. If I were involved with science teaching (which is perhaps the most likely), I would focus more on sophisticated experiment and the inference based on it, and less on the remembrance of the already-discovered. I would praise anybody who deserves it, and if any of the savages laughed at me, I would show him what worth his 'arguments' are of, so that even his friends would ridicule. If I were a teacher---I would certainly be dismissed."

(Taken from an essay named "That Which Ought---Might"; I haven't found it a name in my native language other than that.)

However, I do not actually plan on being a teacher: it fairly differs from the actual purposes I hold for my lifetime. This is just a "what-if" supposition, nothing more and nothing less. In any case, I wish you good luck, where the term "luck" is used metaphorically, for I know that what you need here is not luck at all. As in response to your title, in fact, I cannot think of anything fulfilling in the same way of giving human-beings mind from A to Z, whereas what some schools (well, let's name it as it is: primarily the public ones, but also the others due to government monopoly over the matriculation certificate) perform is about the opposite. And, of course, bring some more rational people to the world, not for the sake of the 'world,' but since it is the interest of all of us.

As a rule I do not appreciate teachers of myself, but this time I honestly appreciate the job you've chosen!

Edited by Tomer Ravid
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Now that I see what your last paragraph implies, and that those children are apparently a far less optimistic vision than I presupposed, I realize that some of things I wrote above are invalid ("giving human-beings mind"). Anyhow, I absolutely get it, that there are some people that cannot be persuaded. I know I can hardly stand having to learn with them; as some of my sole honest and rational teachers can hardly stand having to teach them. Nevertheless, I do not know how more influential over them you might get given that you state an explicit philosophy of education. I suppose that, as it is with anything else in life, significantly more.

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I don't know the particulars, but in general terms any communication requires the recipient to have some motivation. The human mind is simply wired that way. Watch the documentary on "Myths" by Michael Woods and see how he loves his subject. The audience is usually with him in its curiosity. "Was the Queen of Sheba a real person?" He makes it interesting enough to follow him through the question for 45 minutes. Curiosity is natural and can often be the primary motivation.

Going beyond simple curiosity, when one can see some relevance to one's own life, that makes the motivation higher still. If you can show: "This is something you need to know, because you'll need to use that knowledge", that's ideal. However, absent that, even if you can show "This is something where it impacts you, though indirectly, and in a small way" you have some type of hook.

I think it is in this latter area where the Disney-esque aspect comes out. presumably there is some content that has to be communicated, and you judge it to be of very minor relevance. As a communicator, it serves no purpose to remind the student that the relevance is small and indirect. If at least some relevance exists, a communicator ought to use it as a hook. If someone, somewhere is using that bit of knowledge, how is that person using it? How do that person's actions impact the student, even if in a small way? Once you know those two, for the duration of the class, it is important to explain that motivation and put the student in the context where he sees the relevance, no matter how slim.

Of course, there's no point faking it. A salesman who does not love his product and who thinks he is lying about it will come off as lying. In such a case, it is better to be upfront and present "just the facts". The buyer will appreciate it. Still, if you can learn to love the product, in the limited context of "this is all I have to sell" and "this is all they get to buy, and the alternative is a zero", then you may be able to communicate relevance. The human brain is self-motivating; it requires that inner spark of "this matters" to get it to contemplate the subject.

I'm sure you know your context better than us, so of course this may be of little relevance in your specific case. Perhaps the kids you teach simply want to be warehoused. If so, there's not much hope of going beyond those broader expectations.

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