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Truthdig Post

Throughout my career as a teacher of teachers I have taught that the teacher who is a teacher for democracy is a person who thinks for him or herself and is well informed on the important issues of the day, the background necessary to understand what they mean so that he or she can participate in the decision making processes of a democratic society. Such is not on the lists of desirable traits for those who are hired as teachers and, as a result, those who are charged with educating often are without ability to demonstrate to students how a well educated person goes about making sense of the world and deciding what to do about the conditions that exist. For all of the years I have spent in and around schools, as a student and as a teacher and teacher educator, teachers, almost all of them, “taught” what they were prescribed to teach, reliant not on the knowledge and understanding they themselves had accumulated and worked for but upon the curriculum guides and teacher’s manuals they were handed by those in authority. I fear that they will continue to do so, to do what they are told, now by administrators who will do what their school boards and state superintendents tell them to do, those boards and superintendents telling teachers what to do based upon what the DeVos Department of Education tells them to do. At colleges and universities, institutions dependent more than ever on corporate “donations,” what is taught will be what someone wants taught, the agenda unlikely to be freeing minds and growing wisdom of the kind that allows human beings to get to the truth of matters so that society can respond to the contingencies of existence wisely and humanely. Corporatist agendas are hardly ever about making life better for all or making the world a better place for all who live in it. So, what I hope for from those who understand what is taking place in this country and around the world at this point in time, people of good intention, is that they will find ways to gather to have honest conversations about what is and what needs to be done, honest conversations about how to about growing minds, freeing minds so that there are many, many voices, voices of informed independent thinkers that can lend to the development of solid plans for the better future, sensible plans that are based in imagining what can be and what should be rather than upon what people have been told is, will be, must be, cannot be otherwise. In a proper democracy, it is these voices feed the kind of intellectual battles from which come the best ideas for how to proceed. The current school system, from the first years through graduate education, need to become about thinking, about helping individuals grow as thinkers who are able and willing to take in what is going on, understand it well to formulate perspectives that are worthy of being examined by those concerned with the good of the whole. I do not think that the current “system” or the iteration forthcoming will be about fomenting independent thought and I do not think that many within the system will take on the task of forcing upon the authorities the kind of school programs essential to functioning democracy. So, maybe, as has happened in other times when people realize that they are oppressed and do not have to be, we can form the small and local groups that will learn from one another how to grow a viable movement, a movement that wins by doing what is necessary to educate well the individual human minds that can, with solid knowledge and extreme thoughtfulness, make good sense decisions as to what should be and how what should be becomes the new reality. Can we develop a network of such ongoing forums for meaningful education, education that serves what Amy Gutmann calls the “democratic imperative,” education that is not about telling people what to think but education that offers students the tools essential to effective decision making?

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