"While Dewey saw the task of the schools as important in social change, he did not go as far as a radical social reconstructionist such as George Counts. . . . Dewey maintained that the task of the schools was to educate individuals in democratic values. Students would then work for a better society. Thus the school was only indirectly involved in social change." (Elias and Merriam p. 50)
This is what I wrote in the margins this morning on the subway beside that.
Perhaps a good model for me, I wouldn't want to preach atheism but teach critical thinking skills, give students a good bullshit detector ability and let them decide when and where to apply it.
I guess I saw a parallel, in that like Dewey who wanted social change, I would want to enable students to have the critical thinking skills to challenge and reason about things. That doesn't necessarily need to be religion. It could be belief in ghosts, quack medicine, conspiracy theories, lying politicians, or racist propaganda. It could even be challenging my beliefs as a their teacher, although the idea was for me not to really reveal my beliefs so much as I think there could be an ethical question there since I'm being paid to teach English as a Foreign language, not comparative religion per se. However I do teach a writing class, and in formal essay writing students need to learn to think critically. Korea's education system has traditionally focused more on authoritarian banking methods with students learning by rote and memorizing. If they ever wish to study in a Western university it could be a difficult transition. Anyway, my point is that, even though being an atheist is an important part of my identity and a huge influence on my personal philosophy and morality (ie not doing what is right because of a fear of divine reward or punishment, but doing what is right because you believe it to just be the right thing to do, like Plato's Gyge's Ring question, if you had a magic ring that made you invisible, would you still choose to act moral or would you go around stealing things and peeking in the women's changing room.
This hypothetical question of Plato's can be seen as a trope occurring in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or the less divinely inspired Hollowman) I want to be respectful of my students freedom to believe what they want to believe, and also for the practical purpose of maintaining a comfortable vibe in the classroom. Religion, as everybody knows is a heated topic that many take very personally, so I would tread with care in the classroom.
Also, another quote from a few pages later.
"Eduard Lindeman's book, The Meaning of Adult Education, appeared in 1926 that the ideas of the progressives were fully applied to the field of adult education. Lindeman was directly influenced by the ideas of John Dewey and other progressives. He saw education as having as its primary aim the development of social intelligence, that is, the practical understanding of the world in which we live." (Elias and Merriam p. 53)
I underlined the words social intelligence within the part I highlighted and wrote this in the margins.
Critical thinking skills? For Lindeman? For me!
I remember wondering if critical thinking skills would have been something that Lindeman (or Dewey for that matter) would have considered part of social intelligence, a pre requisite for social intelligence, both or not at all. At any rate, it dawned on me that I would consider critical thinking skills a definite aid in developing social intelligence.
A few sentences later was a quote from Lindeman's The Meaning of Adult Education,
"Every adult person finds himself in specific situations with respect to his work, his recreation, his family-life, his community-life, et cetera--situations which call for adjustments. . . . Texts and teachers play a new and secondary role in this type of education; they must give way to the primary importance of the learner. [Lindeman, 1926, pp 8-9]
In the margins my thought was this
Maybe my challenge to be fulfilled as a teacher needs an area where the students are more likely to need / want / benefit from critical thinking skills.
I guess what I was thinking there was about how I approach instilling critical thinking as an educator depends partly on what type of students I'm teaching, what their situation or subject is, and what the requirements and limits of my job are. For example right now I'm teaching EFL in Korea and my primary role is to teach English. I can incorporate some critical thinking skills but I need to remember what my main purpose is. However, I was thinking of some of the stories from the Vella book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, and how in lots of cases different organizations brought her in to teach workshops. I can imagine that if someone was brought in to do a workshop for biology teachers who were struggling with resistance to evolutionary theory from students or parents coming from an evangelical background I might be covering different ground and have a wider scope in relation to my own identity as a non believer and champion of rational thought, the scientific method, and secular humanism. Again, if I happened to move to Canada and teach ESL with students from many different and possibly hostile to each others religions (think a Jewish student, a muslim student, a catholic student, and a buddhist all in the same ESL class) I would need to tread carefully around topics of religion if I didn't want the class atmosphere to become a powder keg. I don't think that means religion could never be a topic, but it would have to be well thought out in a method of discussion that allowed all students, and myself for that matter to feel safe in the learning environment. What about a group of atheists who formed a group who ask an adult educator to come in and help them with a workshop on how to organize themselves for community outreach, political lobbying, for example. In that particular group of students, It would be perfectly reasonable for me to self identify.
Here's what I did in class today in an attempt to make it relevant to what I'm studying. I'm teaching a class called Reading and Composition. In that class part of the design of the course is to read examples of essays or articles, and to study them, and then for students to write their own essays as a response, or to use the articles they read to get new ideas for writing. We will also look at things like format, and different types of essays too. But, what I did was I encouraged my writing students, when writing about or in response to the essays they read, not to just write an essay summarizing what the article said (unless we are studying summaries at a particular lesson) but to also write about their own opinions, feelings and ideas that they had after reading the article, not to accept everything the article says on faith but to question in and weigh it in their own minds. I tried to convey to them the idea that they have important ideas and viewpoints and that I want to know what they think, and learn something from them too while I'm teaching and helping them.
No, really. Even when you don't know that people are watching you.
Here's the trailer. This is a great movie!