Thoughts About Teaching in a Democracy

They are not mine, although I will give my assent to them. I encountered them when reading a book.

Allow me to share them so that you can ponder them, before I tell you the author, because the value of thought should be independent of what we know of the thinker, should it not?

Let me begin with this:

Teaching is powered by a common faith: When I look out at my students, I assume the full humanity of each. I see hopes and dreams, aspirations and needs, experiences and intentions that must somehow be accounted for and valued. I encounter citizens not consumers, unruly sparks of meaning, making energy, and not a mess of deficits. This is the evidence of things not seen, the starting point for teachers in our democratic society.

I assume the full humanity of each -- Jerome Bruner once said that every child is capable of some degree of mastery in every domain. It is our task as teachers to explore with that child in a fashion that does not foreclose dreams, that does not devalue the experiences and life-knowledge with which that student arrives in our classrooms.

Citizens not consumers -- also not merely workers in our economy. If we are a democracy our primary task, especially for social studies teachers like myself, is to prepare students to be participants in our society, which in political science terms is a liberal democracy, and which can remain as one only so long as We the people are prepared to exercise our responsibility for it.

Participatory democracy requires a high level of vigilance and action in its defense and in its enactment.

Note those first two words -- participatory democracy -- it is not a spectator sport, but rather requires our commitment. Our education should have as its most important purpose preparing our students for a life in such a participatory democracy. Without that even their economic futures -- and that of the nation -- may well be in doubt.

Educators, students, and citizens must now press for an education worthy of a democracy, including an end to sorting people into winners and losers through expensive standardized tests that act as pseudo-scientific forms of surveillance; and end to starving schools of needed resources and then blaming teachers and their unions for dismal outcomes; and an end of "savage inequalities' and the rapidly accumulating "educational debt," the resources due to communities historically segregated, underfunded, and under-served. All children and youth in a democracy, regardless of economic circumstance, deserve full access to richly resourced classrooms led by caring, thoughtful, fully qualified, and generously compensated teachers.

Note the key words, in groups.

All children and youth -- we should not be making distinctions based on economic status of the parents or the community

Full access to richly resourced classrooms -- again, lesser economic status should not further deprive some of the chance to experience and use the resources that can open doors and inflame imaginations

By caring, thoughtful, fully qualified, and generously compensated teachers -- Fully qualified does not mean learning on the job after only five weeks of training. Caring means the focus is the well-being of the students, not the future economic and professional status of the teachers. Generously compensated -- well, at least sufficiently compensated that one does not have to take a second job to pay one's bills, and can devote full attention to the meaningful task of teaching.

Do these words resonate with you? The teachers I have asked to consider them all responded positively, even when they did know the source.

They are from the third edition of To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher.

The author is now retired from his university post, after a long period of teaching students from the youngest to his graduate students.

His name is William Ayers.

Yes, that William Ayers.

Does that change your reaction to his thoughts? If so, shame on you.