Friday, July 29, 2011

A Chance to Teach Our Children

This fall we all have an important opportunity to teach our children. An essential component of education is the modeling of desirable behaviors including—respect for people with opinions that differ from our own, the discipline to consider both sides of an issue and being open to changing our beliefs once we learn a different perspective. (Incidentally, that is one of my many concerns with the rise of online and blended learning that is being promoted by many states, education corporations and educational think tanks—including here in Ohio. There are many things that we can learn by using computers; but there are many behaviors, attitudes and values that can only be learned through human interaction. Even as jaded as high school students appear on the outside, they pick up a lot of attitudes, values and life lessons from their teachers. But, I digress.)

This fall many states and local governments will have controversial issues on the ballot. In Ohio, for example, voters will have the opportunity to decide Issue 2, the referendum vote on the controversial Senate Bill 5, which limits collective bargaining rights for public employees including teachers, police officers and fire fighters and requires merit pay and personnel decisions for teachers to be based primarily on standardized tests. The opportunity to educate our children this fall is this: the responsibility that we all have to model the ability to engage in respectful and civil discourse as we debate and discuss controversial political issues—or to learn this skill as an adult for the first time if necessary.

Mean-spirited personal attacks, outrageous hyperbole, insidious innuendo and the like are not the methods of debate and discussion we should be modeling for our children. There is enough of that on the radio, on television and online already. The people who oppose Issue 2 in Ohio are by in large not lazy, godless communists who are trying to destroy America. They are people who are concerned about the unintended consequences of many of the provisions in the bill—for example, the increased use of standardized testing for the purpose of making personnel decisions about teachers’ employment and salaries, requiring a yet to be determined merit pay system for teachers that may or may not include parent evaluations or student evaluations and the potential de-professionalization of the already battered teaching profession.

And the people who support Issue 2 are by in large not right-wing fascists who are intent on taking over the world by crushing labor unions and gaining control of our nation’s education system to indoctrinate our children. They are people who think that teachers have too many collective bargaining rights, a performance pay system can be successfully implemented for teachers that will outweigh the costs and that this will improve educational outcomes for students. It is an issue about which reasonable people can disagree and the voters will have the opportunity to decide the issue this November.

So, as we move into this year’s election season let’s try to model respectful and rational discourse for our children. This will result in a more productive exploration of the issues and we all will have the opportunity to evaluate our beliefs and modify our position on the issues. Not only that, be we all have the opportunity to participate in teaching our children about respectful dialogue, and if more people played an active role in educating our nation’s children that would certainly improve educational outcomes. And who knows—we may learn something new by being open to that possibility and we may even gain a new friend in the process. So, here’s to hoping that we can have a rational and respectful discussion of the issues as we move into this year’s election season.