The School Reform Commission’s recent recommendations on charter renewals and District school turnarounds have caused educators, parents, and citizens to rally both for and against its decision-making. However, as adults across the city exercise their First Amendment rights, we must keep in mind that students are not only greatly affected by the SRC’s decisions, but by our reactions, as educators, to these decisions. Are we teaching students to decide for themselves what to believe in, or are we, in desperation to put our own beliefs forward, swaying children to support our personal agendas?
In recent weeks, both charter and District schools have organized students to protest at the School District of Philadelphia, and the pedagogy of some of these educators must be called into question. Schools have paid for students’ transportation to speak at the SRC meetings, when teachers are often told there isn’t enough money for field trips. Academic time has been spent creating posters and writing speeches in support of the future of a school, without allowing students to explore the other side of the argument. Although I hope schools are creating authentic dialogue about the facts of what is happening in their buildings, too many anecdotes indicate that children are being told what to believe, who to support, and when to protest.
To understand how misguided our response is, remember that, as Pearl S. Buck once said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
As a starting point, let’s revisit the story of Hope Moffett, a teacher in Philadelphia who was sanctioned in 2011 for encouraging her students to protest the takeover of their high school. Why was she punished? Why aren’t similar practices by educators being questioned today?
This is not to point fingers at any school or organization, but to remind educators and leaders in Philadelphia that our duty is to provide the best education possible to our students and to all the children of our city. Political issues are often the most difficult to teach, because as educators, we have a responsibility to present multiple opinions on a topic -- opinions that we may vehemently oppose. But it is our duty to present issues and arguments, rather than indoctrinate students to support our cause.
As we move forward and await more decisions from the SRC, let us commit ourselves to teaching students how to protest, not what to protest, and how to think, not what to think.
Nimet Eren has been an English teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for nine years. She is now working on her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.