Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'd like to teach the world to sing. And by "sing" I mean "debate."

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

"Yeah, and this guy and the guy on before him are our only line of defense." - Michael Steudeman, On Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart (respectively)

I've been thinking about writing an entry about why I decided to go into teaching. This will actually only kind of be about that.

I wish I could say that I had some beautiful moment of inspiration where I suddenly felt a higher calling to teach. You may be picturing a scene from Stand and Deliver or Mr. Holland's Opus
. In reality, it was much more like a scene from Daria:
Picture a 13-year old Marj (at this stage, she actually looks a lot like a boy). She's sitting in her 8th grade Algebra class, hating everything. Especially Algebra. Strike that. Especially her Algebra teacher. See, the thing is, she understands Algebra. She's understood it since her dad explained it to her when she was, like, 11. What she doesn't understand is why her teacher is so terrible at explaining it to everyone else in the class. She's so upset with some of the events of her life (that's a whole 'nother blog entry, if not a whole 'nother blog), and so frustrated with the teacher and her classmates, she could scream. She doesn't, though. Instead, the following thought pops into her head: "Jesus Christ! I could do a better job than this bitch and I'm only 13 years old!"
It was in this moment that I decided to go into education. Not inspiring at all. Not even slightly warm and fuzzy. It was a bitter, angry moment in which I decided that since I could do a better job, then I should do a better job. The world (or at least Huntley Middle School) needed my help. At the time, though, I was under the impression that I was a terrible writer, I had no interest in science, and (most importantly) I was still two years away from my first public speaking class. Interestingly, I thought I would end up either as a Math or Music teacher. I was way off.

Between then and now, there have been a few heartwarming moments which have helped to shape my passion for teaching and reinforced my belief in myself as a capable teacher. These are very touching stories indeed, and you won't find them here, because - more often than not - I find myself reliving the frustration that led me down this path to begin with. This happens to me a lot when I watch "The News" or try to talk to people on "The Facebook."

Two recent examples of people - journalists, even, who
should know better! - completely wrecking the national conversation that immediately come to my mind include the "Birthers" (who recently seem to have shut up, for the most part), and the so-called "Town Hall Rioters." Don't know what I'm talking about? Where have you been? For a quick recap, please watch this and/or this. Now, I understand that both of these movements represent positions with which most people would just automatically assume I disagree (and most people would be correct). But here's what drives me crazy: the problem here is not a simple difference of opinion. The problem here, as I see it, is a total disregard for the rational standards necessary to construct a legitimate argument.

Evidence. Reasoning. Impact. These things aren't that difficult to comprehend. Tell me where your information comes from, please. Link it to your assertions. Tell me why it matters. Hold yourself to a high standard and represent your position in the best way you can. I'll do the same. If we don't agree, at least we'll move the conversation in a constructive direction. Please, don't call people names, use scare tactics, or (and this one's a biggie) make things up. And remember: being the loudest doesn't make you right, it makes you the most obnoxious. Not only do these fallacious methods piss people off, they also completely destroy the possibility of actual debate and informed decision-making. You know, those little things that some call the cornerstones of democracy.

So, here I am, again. Remembering why I decided to go into teaching to begin with. I want to try to teach these important skills to the "next generation" of politicians, journalists, and facebook users. I only wish I didn't have to get all pissed off to remember how I got here.

Here's the sad part: this is what I watch to make myself feel better. Enjoy!