Sep 2, 2013
Every April, the colleges and universities in Western New York hold ‘Teacher Recruitment Day’ for their Education alumni where they can interview with representatives from school districts across the country. Generally the representatives are Human Resources Specialists who ask the traditional ‘What are your weaknesses?’ ‘Why do you want to be a teacher?’ and ‘How do you encourage creativity in your classroom?’, but I did have the opportunity to meet with a principal at this past TRD. The last question he asked me was, ‘What is your purpose as a teacher?’
I had never had this question posed to me before, and I had to stop and think about it. It’s more than teaching what happened 500 years ago, or how to solve for x, or the different parts of the Hero's Journey, or the molality of a solution. Education is greater than the sum of its parts.
So I mulled it over for a couple minutes. What is our purpose? Something in the vein of Plato’s Philosopher-Kings, I feel that our purpose is to create Citizen Scholars.
Citizen Scholars would be those individuals who bear the rights and responsibilities of carrying on the traditions of our Republic and have the knowledge and skills to effectively do so. Both of these aspects are crucial to the successful functioning and continuation of a stable society.
Today we have too many small-c citizens. Passive citizens. People who act more like residents, and who live the way John F. Kennedy might describe as asking what their country can do for them. Small-c citizens may pay their taxes and generally obey the laws, but are formed by a shallow culture which tells them to only worry about themselves, that indulging in an overly-consumerist life is the ideal, and not to think too hard about the things they watch on television or read in a magazine. The big-c Citizen is one who participates in the Republic – someone who is committed to duty, civic virtue, and the good of the community & nation and wants to maintain both for future generations.
The Scholarly aspect is vital as well. This is the attribute counter to that which the 24/7 news and the so-called ‘Entertainment’ industry brings to us. Bill Waterson once said (through Calvin’s Dad) that 'It's going to be a grim day when the world is run by a generation that doesn't know anything but what it's seen on TV.' Unfortunately that’s where we’re headed
During the Medieval Period, students were taught arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music theory, grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Eventually they were also taught physics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. This system produced some of the most brilliant thinkers and scientists that we teach about: Copernicus, Aquinas, Bacon, da Vinci, Brahe. Even 60 years ago, American schools produced the scientists and engineers that took 24 men to the Moon and back. I’m not making a case necessarily for the same styles of education (although it would be nice to see grammar, logic, and rhetoric make a return). I’m pointing out that, as Educators, we have to contend with something our forerunners did not; namely those same ‘news and entertainment’ channels.
As Educators, we need to not only teach our students how to be Citizen Scholars, but model that ideal for them as well or else we risk losing everything to generation after generation raised by talking heads and YouTube comments.
This is a topic I’m sure I’ll come back to again in future posts in order to further explore and flesh out. It’s been one of those ideas that has been on my mind a lot, and I want to explore the idea.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers