I want to applaud Sarah Laribee for her past column on being a teacher, and her goal of keeping her conservative ideology out of her career. I spent some time thinking about my own place in education, and that goal. From my columns, it is obvious that Laribee and I do not fall into line on most issues. I am not conservative and I do not like either of the Georges. But I do agree with Laribee that teachers can make a point to keep their ideology out of the classroom. However, the success of this goal is another issue altogether.
In my own classes many of us are working toward a career in higher education. Many of us also work in the classroom. We have discussed the fine line between teaching and giving off opinions in class. However, our studies push us to become critical of society, the system and what others view as the answers to these problems.
Teachers, who claim that they do not let any of their biases show, are failing at truly understanding teaching. Learning is what teachers have done, and with this knowledge they acquire they go out and teach what they have learned. Unfortunately, as humans, we cannot always decipher the meaning of knowledge (and the biases) and actual knowledge itself. Those of us in education are drawn to knowledge for many reasons. I argue one of these reasons comes straight from our core understanding of how we define ourselves. I do not see how teachers can hold their views away from what they teach. After all, they study what they find interesting, they read what they find poignant, and they teach what they think is important for students to know. If they don’t do these things, I question why they would want to become teachers.
Laribee also argues that she had several teachers she “canonized” in middle school. She says that part of her respect for these teachers comes out of her belief that they were critical. But what made these teachers critical? I would argue it is their interests and their views. Like Laribee, I have had many teachers that I know were paramount to my education. But I do not claim they remained neutral on issues. In many aspects these teachers that I found so motivating were much like my own parents, both in ethics and ideology. I would argue that we have a disposition to like those teachers that fall into our ideological or core ethical viewpoints, or at least can persuade us to look at theirs.
Laribee also says that if a student came to her with an unwanted pregnancy she would not let her conservative ideology take over in her dealing with the situation. But what would her suggestions be? What is this help that is alluded to, but not defined? Her opinion of what is right and wrong, as a teacher and an individual, would most likely influence her to suggest methods other than abortion as the answer. After all, the student would be coming to her for her opinion, not her subjectivity, or why else come to her?
I know that I have biases. Parents who supported liberal ideologies raised me. I was taught what was right and wrong in an American society. I went to school and learned from teachers, books, novels, the media and other classmates. I am a product of society, and I know that as a person I cannot ever truly be neutral. I can try to be, as I think Sarah Laribee can too. But I know that I am studying political science because of an interest, and that interest is what makes me want to teach it.
I am not saying that at certain levels and in certain subjects teachers cannot try to be as subjective as possible. But subjectivity is an impossible perfection. Interests are what draw professors to their discipline, just as teachers are drawn to make a difference in their student’s lives. The professionalization of teaching is rooted in the study of knowledge, and that study is the drive for us, as people and as teachers, to want to teach students about the many lessons we have ourselves learned.