Big Brother or Teacher?

For me, reading books side-by-side encourages some really interesting discoveries of connections and parallels– I’m sure it does for most readers. The last few books I’ve read for professional and personal reasons are 1984 by George Orwell, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, and Why School? by Will Richardson. You might think that there isn’t much in common, but I’ve applied what I’ve read to my teaching… a little from each book, and it’s quite critical.

All three books discuss teaching the next generation. Solomon interviews families who have children with different identities than their parents (homosexuality, deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, etc.). In his search for the answer about whether or not he should have children, he discovers families who have embraced their children’s differences and found communities to foster healthy growth, independence, and comfort in their identities. The communities are mostly centered around who the child is versus who the parents are (the way it should be, right?). This got me thinking about teaching. We are constantly listing out skills that all children must have or teaching from a list, and we won’t leave any child behind. Why aren’t we embracing their strengths– even those who aren’t exceptional?

In 1984, I found a similar theme– an organization designed to squash out the individuals and their independent thoughts (presented in a different light, of course). Isn’t that what we do when we try to teach every child the same thing? The other thing to reflect is how the Party disseminated all of the information– whoever controls the present, controls the past. When I think about my classroom and how I’ve been teaching, I know that everything has been filtered through me– scarily Orwellian. The plethora of information I digest comes out in a smaller portion for my class to understand, but after reading these books, I’m uneasy delivering information the way I so comfortably did before.

I do work hard to find factual information to present, yet was I really able to describe the horrors of slavery? I also presented it as the past– what about now? How do we get our fruits and vegetables to market? These are thoughts I’ve had, but there seems to be a piece missing if I’m not talking about the whole picture of human history from multiple perspectives. How can just one person do this?

This is where Will Richardson’s book played a part. The problem is how I present– Am I teaching in a way that leads my students to these questions or am I teaching in a way that only leads them to the questions I can answer? Considering what’s developmentally appropriate has a role, as well… Filtering and breaking down information into digestible chunks has primarily been done on a group basis. How can I open my students up to all of the information I can without scaring them? Do I teach more controversial topics as fact and open the exploration to less controversial or safe topics?

These are just some of the thoughts racing through my mind this morning. What are your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Big Brother or Teacher?

  1. I hadn’t thought of teaching in the light of 1984; but it is a sobering thought that if I’m not careful I can become Big Brother. I think that avoiding this is easier for the age range that I teach (middle and high), but it is something that I will make sure I am mindful of in my classroom.


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