The Other I

June 2, 2013

Everybody wins

I’ve just read an interview with Noam Chomsky in which he suggests that effective education doesn’t teach to tests, but teaches students to discuss and explore processes, events, issues, problems.

This reflects my own philosophy of education.  I never tried to teach my students the right answers.  Their grades didn’t depend on their agreeing with me or with any particular theory we might be studying.  Their grade depended on their ability to describe each theory, or each side of an issue, in a way that someone espousing that theory would agree fairly reflects their thinking.  Then, and only then, do I think we have the credentials to make our own decisions.

Every once in a while, a student would say he or she didn’t want to learn about some theory or other because he didn’t agree with it.

How in heavens’ name can we legitimately disagree with someone if we don’t know what they are saying?


I’ve once again gotten so excited about the value of understanding the points of view with which we disagree that I’ve even fantasized writing a book for teachers who are mandated by state law to teach both Darwin’s theory of evolution and Creationism.

What an incredible opportunity for a teacher in this position!

This is a topic about which feelings run so deep that they often suffocate rational discussion.  And I am not talking only about the view of Creationists.  I have met Evolutionists (with whom I happen to agree, by the way) who are as dogmatic, close-minded, and judgemental about Creationists as any one.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could learn in the classroom to take the alternative seriously, seriously enough to grapple with the legitimate claims of both sides?

Wouldn’t we have brighter students?  And would we have a society that is more tolerant of those with whom we disagree?


Oh no, I’m not going to write another book!  There’s too much work to do in the garden anyway.





  1. I like. I’ve had a similar impulse about the teaching of Creationism/Evolution but never quite got it expressed as you have, even to myself. I understand the garden call, but maybe you could tell us a bit about how the book would approach the issue?


    Comment by pianomusicman — June 2, 2013 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

    • Ach! Get thee behind me!

      All right, I’ve succumbed. It will take a little time (what with the garden, you know), but I’ll outline in a post or two how I would approach the issue. You will, I think, recognize a few themes.


      Comment by theotheri — June 3, 2013 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

  2. Scotland has done its best with the curriculum to avoid teaching to tests. Some people worry that the curriculum is content free, but I think that its skills-based, enquiry based learning is probably “a good thing”. The idea is that children figure out what they want to learn and then figure out how to learn it. In practice, sure, the teachers cover the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic – but they’ve added a new R (that doesn’t begin with R) called “Health and Wellbeing” as another basic – so that’s good.
    I cannot believe the prescriptive bunk Gove keeps suggesting for south of the border. Making tests harder does not make children cleverer – just more likely to feel crushing low self esteem…


    Comment by sanstorm — June 3, 2013 @ 11:40 am | Reply

    • I am usually somewhat reluctant to cheer for students’ “self-esteem,” because I think self-esteem that is earned and quite possibly occasionally battered by difficulty and failure is far more resilient in the run. But Gove is making me nervous too. Learning to pass tests is going to create very narrow, uncreative individuals with too often an intolerant “right answer” mentality.


      Comment by theotheri — June 3, 2013 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  3. Creationism is to this century what the flat earth society was to the middle ages. How negative for any student not wanting to learn about some theory or other because he didn’t agree with it. Karl Marx or Proust probably had a phrase to cover that attitude! My only regret is I am unable to thank all my teachers for giving me an excellent foundation for the almost the rest of my life.


    Comment by lairdglencairn — June 3, 2013 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

    • I quite possibly speak from a need that is greater in the US than here in Britai n. But whatever you and I might think of Creationism, at least half of the people in the US reject evolution on the grounds that it’s “only a theory.” There is a terrifying ignorance of what science does and does not, can and cannot tell us, little understanding of the difference between “scientific fact” and faith, and little knowledge of metaphor as a form of truth. I would find it difficult to learn the nuances of creationism in order to teach it, but it would be a great opportunity to help students learn to think critically about which scientific findings are valid and those that may be highly questionable. And in the end, it might help heal the intolerance at the heart of our American society and which, in truth, is crippling government, because politicians will not compromise and there is little respect for anyone who disagrees.

      I got straight A’s throughout my American education. My husband’s education was in England and Scotland. His grades were not as unfailingly as good as mine, but his education was a great deal better. Like you, he got an excellent foundation that I envy.


      Comment by theotheri — June 3, 2013 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

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    Comment by budavar — August 3, 2013 @ 2:34 am | Reply

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