Respect Is Key To Teaching

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From the time
of Socrates, teaching has been one of the most noble and enriching
professions, enabling one's students to pass through life bearing
the mark of their intelligence while building the foundations of
self-esteem.

The primary
purpose of education is the search for and dissemination of truth.
The methodology used to discover truth is based on critical literacy.
The role of the educator, therefore, is to facilitate critical literacy
within one's students through rigorous exercise and discipline,
leading to cultivation of the intellect and maturity.

"The liberally
educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred
answers," observed Allan Bloom, "not because he is obstinate
but because he knows others worthy of consideration."

Education is
concerned with the discernment of truth, not the voicing of momentary
whim constituting subjective opinion.

By the Socratic
method of divergent classroom discussion and investigation, instruction
must capitalize on both the cognitive (thinking) and affective (emotional)
aspects of students in order to prepare them to become fully integrated
members of society.

As a history
instructor I face this challenge on a daily basis. My high school
students must make an emotional connection with the factual material
being studied. And they do not get that from reading boring accounts
of historical events from state-mandated texts, sapped of the richness
of narrative and vision. Students stumbling and fumbling, like cheerless
robots, to hurriedly answer the tedious section review questions
of a text's chapter before the bell sounds at the end of a period
is not learning. It is a rote process of going through mechanical
motions like a trained seal.

The behavioral
conduct of an educator is to nurture maturity within one's students
by maximizing self-discipline and the internalization of responsibility.
Students must be made to face the fact that actions have consequences.
Education cannot be held hostage to disruption or extortion by nihilistic
gangsters or unremorseful barbarians — purposeless and lacking any
semblance of civility or conscience.

In a stimulating,
vigorous classroom environment, with rules and procedures clearly
defined and equitably enforced, and with the full consideration
of the rights of each student, the search for truth can proceed,
if there is a mutuality of respect by those present.

Respect is
critical to the success of this endeavor. An extremely wise and
sagacious teacher, Jim Goss, carefully pointed out to me that "respect
is a verb." It is not a passive noun but something that must
be actively fostered and eventually earned. Respect — for oneself,
one's mind, body, parents or teachers — is a prime ingredient of
self-esteem.

Accordingly,
respect for individuality and inclusive diversity within the classroom
is the recognition that only under a climate of freedom can development
of internal standards of conduct be possible.

An effective
educator must possess the realistic expectations and temperament
to meet the challenge of providing the vital motivational structure
for learning during a student's developing years.

"It is
the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression
and knowledge," noted Albert Einstein.

As someone
who has had this profound pleasure of appreciating teaching from
both sides of the lecture podium, I offer these reflections, however
disinterested, as prudential wisdom tempered by experience.

January
10, 2007

Charles
A. Burris [send him mail]
is a history instructor in an American high school.

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