Sunday, November 26, 2006

Preaching in Class

I would say that this teacher definitely crossed a line. Anyone dispute that?


EllenK said...

No question that the teacher was over the top. I would say similar things about a teacher who allowed his or her political or social views drive class discussion. While I think we can offer opinions, there shouldn't ever be a case made that we indoctrinated students. The best Poli Sci teacher I have ever had was so adept at taking the opposite view that we never knew until the class was over did we learn his personal political views. Instead he used a wide range of sources and encouraged us to question and debate conventional wisdom or radical concepts. I never cared for the type of teacher who would preach to me and it makes me uncomfortable as a teacher to have to hold my ground with other teachers and students who seem to think a public school is a place to proselytize.

Doug said...

I agree this was a bit over the top. But I want to know more about the context. When I was in high school, we had a few students who were quite adept at getting certain teachers to go WAY off-topic with personal stories. We never felt threatened by this-rather, it was funny as heck to us. So I want to know if this was part of his regular spiel and the students felt threatened and obligated to agree in their assignments, or if this was a clever student's way to get the teacher worked up for the class' amusement. Those high school kids can be quite wily.

I taught middle school and was careful not to let my political or religious feelings be part of the curriculum (though according to the students, many of the other teachers felt no qualms about openly advocating their own politics). Of course, I worked in small towns of around 2,000 people, and the fact that I was in church every Sunday, coupled with my NRA sticker on my truck window, would have been a clue to anyone trying to figure me out. But it wasn't part of my classroom.

Darren said...

I used to discuss my politics in class--since it was a math class, I couldn't very well grade students down for not agreeing with me! It was just something else we discussed in class, as some might discuss the weekend's football game or what was on Lost.

A parent complained, I don't do it anymore. Too bad, too, as it was enjoyable for most.

Oddly enough, it's my most liberal students (and former students) who comment here, and they don't seem to fear any repercussions.

Anyway, to hear my vice principal talk to me about this one parent complaint, one would get the impression that I never taught any math in that class. I apparently support the standards but don't teach to them, or something.

Anonymous said...

A couple of points...

I have to wonder if this story would have made the news if the guy had been a Muslim or a Hindu (i.e., non-Christian) and was explaining his beliefs to the students. Or, a homosexual telling the class about what he believes. Or some lib denouncing GWB as a war-monger and a dumbass. The media, in general, is not exactly supportive of Christians; I'd be willing to wager that the media would be happy to give a "pass" to the other scenarios I mentioned, in the same way that they give a pass to libs who say racist things, and so forth.

As a Christian, I agree with some of what the guy was saying-- I disagree, for example, with his remark about Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark-- but at the same time, I believe that the gospel is better caught than taught. I'm not suggesting Christians (or adherents of any other world-view) ought to be barred from talking about what they believe. Teaching is a human interaction, and regardless of what subject is being taught, some of our humanity comes into the picture at some point.

As a math instructor, I don't digress in class very often, and when I do, I'm careful to keep things semi-topical, like talking about the impact of inflation on the federal deficit and the price of gas, etc. But I do not use my position as a bully pulpit to hold forth on my political and religious views.

I believe that I'm not being paid to pontificate on politics or any other subject besides mathematics. There are some grey areas-- I would say that advocating against innumeracy is probably defensible, for example-- but in general I try to avoid sailing too close to the wind.

As a Christian, I also believe that my work is my field of ministry, and that my primary purpose is to bring glory to God by doing my job as best I can.

Anonymous said...

As teachers, we have to walk such a fine line most of the time. We have to care about our students--but not too much. We have to be role models but not preachy. We want to be humans and develop a rapport and not be all business all of the time, but have to do it carefully. So often things said (or done) are taken out of context, as one of your previous commenters pointed out. I don't really care what the context was that the teacher you profiled used his spiel about God--it was over the line no matter what. I believe in God but would have been uncomfortable in that classroom with him.
Teaching eighth grade social studies, where a large focus is on our government, I have to be careful not to share my political views and be neutral. I play devil's advocate a lot when trying to present both sides of certain issues.
I also teach English, in which you learn a lot of personal information about your students through their writing. This is also an area of concern, at times. I wouldn't want to be accused of requiring students to write about anything personal or uncomfortable.

John S. said...

Check out Max Weber’s insight on objectivity in the classroom in his now classic “Science as a Vocation”:

While no Weberian, I agree with maintaining objectivity in the classroom because, first, it obviously can influence students’ beliefs without presenting them all the facts, points of view, etc. Beyond that, because one could argue they do present all the facts, etc., one of the many noble goals of teaching is to help students develop the tools to think for themselves. Consequently, any good conservative or liberal who believes in the superiority of their philosophy must agree that if human beings are given all the tools to think critically for themselves then they will naturally conclude the same as you. That is, it would be irrelevant to present your particular points of view in class (unless that is the nature of the course, e.g. social theory, philosophy, history, or political science). The goal should be the lesson at hand and if understanding differing points of view is necessary, then do so. Yet, the teacher’s personal point of view should not be a factor and never made known because, regardless of how it can be justified, it can influence kids one way or the other (depending I guess on how well liked the teacher is). Likewise, would the time not be better spent conducting the lesson plan rather than discussing personal views?

I must confess, while teaching at a particular place in a particular state at a particular grade level, I got on my soapbox and condemned those you were against gay marriage. I, in hindsight, know that was wrong and I strive to never do it again. Instead, I need to just teach and, when combined with other teachers and other lessons, the students will think for themselves, hopefully, in a logical manner and conclude what is best for themselves. That is, I shant never do the thinking for students again—I want to help them think for themselves. In addition, I lost the attention of some (regardless if you argue right or wrong) and that is unfair to them! They were there to learn, not to hear my personal opinion.

rory said...

It wasn't so much stating his religious views that bugged me, but his views on science, evolution, and Dinosoars on Noah's Ark. No wonder our students don't do well compared to other nations.

Not to mentioned that if it wasn't for the audio tapes, he would probably gotten away with lying about it... not very Christian.

Yep... he was an idiot.

John S. said...

Honest question based on Anonymous' comments and as I stated in another post: why do Christians feel so discriminated against? In the history of this country, perhaps, no other group has enjoyed as much freedom from persecution as the Christians. Likewise, whether you agree they were Christian or not, certain "Christians" have done the most persecuting in this country (or are up there near the top of the list): Salem, KKK, Christian Identity, etc. etc. I of course understand most Christians, such as my wonderful mother, are great people with a genuine desire to do well (though I disagree with their doctrines and even find them arrogant and often counterproductive to their intentions). I propose that we are actually living in a time of a great Christian renaissance surpassing the Second Great Awakening and even rivaling the Great Awakening. The mere notion that Christians feel so discriminated against is, perhaps, evidence of such because of a solidified collective group conscience that is so articulate, knowledgeable, and strong.

Darren said...

Or, it's because vocal opinion--news media and Hollywood--are decidedly anti-Christian.

I never heard the term "evangelical Christians" used as a perjorative until I became an adult, and I never heard "right-wing Christians" at all until I became an adult. There are plenty of left-wing Christians--the Catholics and Episcopalians come to mind--but one never hears the term "left-wing Christians", especially spoken in contempt.

John S. said...

I agree. I think, per capita, vocal opinion is anti-Christian—well if not “decidedly” then certainly secular. This does not mean that news media and Hollywood, as well as other formats for vocal opinion, such as books, newspapers, magazines, music, etc, are entirely absent of Christian voices and values. Indeed, FOX News is the #1 news show—if not #1 then #2 depending on how you look at the numbers—but I think they are #1. Fox News is certainly a conservative news channel that supports, mostly, Christian values. Brit Hume, for example, is a professed born again Christian according to the Washington Post interview ( John Gibson even wrote a book recently defending his Christian values in The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Heck, watch Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity and they echo Gibson with segments titled “Christmas under Siege.” O’Reilly certainly identifies himself as a Christian (Catholic?) but I understand he has been criticized by traditionalist Christians for his soft support of gay rights and environmental issues. I have not read Culture Warrior but the reviews online reference his appeal to “traditional” values that are in line with Christian values. As for Hannity, I have heard him numerous times proclaim his belief in a Christian God but I do not have any documentary evidence other than to point to his stated values over the radio and on TV and his website where he lists several Christian books for endorsement ( The list goes on. Pat Robertson and the 700 Club has a big following (owned by Lord Murdock?), as well as Dr. Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” Rush Limbaugh, who, according to WBT, “hosts the highest rated national radio talk show in America,” also references his beliefs in Jesus Christ on a regular basis and is a favorite among Christians (my best friend, ironically a Pastor, listens to Rush and Hannity because of their Christian values).

Therefore, we have the # 1 rated radio show and the # 1 rated news television show in the country as supportive of Christian values. Instead of railing against that let me offer an interpretation you might not expect from me: they are popular because many people agree with them! That is, as I stated before, I maintain we are in a time of a Christian Renaissance that radio and news television only reflects. Likewise, while I have no delusions that Hollywood and the music industry are predominantly secular, many Hollywood insiders and musicians are Christian and support Christian values (Passion of the Christ is just one example as is the actor John Colbert). Many mainstream musicians identify themselves as Christian (U2 perhaps represents those misguided prodigal left-wing Christians you discussed). Indeed, according to Business Week, Christian music is growing rapidly in popularity and recorded over $720 million dollars in 2004 or 2005, surpassing classical and jazz music. Heck, I have even seen Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, DC Talk, and Michael W. Smith (3 times). In the same article, “The Fashion of the Christ,” (what a title) Business Week cited the supreme popularity of Christian books, Finally, I think we can sense the resurgence of Christian values within popular culture itself. I remember the Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco and watched my fellow countrymen lose their minds over the nipple! Nipplegate (whether clamped or not) reflects the notion that old Puritanical social mores are still present in our society. Still, many things reflect otherwise, but Christianity is thriving! The world is as enchanted as ever (why debate stem cell research if not).

Oh, Christians usually are the ones who speak of left-wing Christians with contempt. At least that is my personal experience.

Anonymous said...

I do like the comment at the original post:

"The sad thing is that so many teachers feel they have a license for indoctrination to their personal views, as some kind of perk that goes with the job. The correct description of such behavior, in my view, is unprofessional."

Crossed a line? He leaped over the line, left it in a cloud of dust, and never looked back! Growing up, I had similarly evangelical Christian teachers who had no reservations about spouting their support of all things Biblical. Most notably my *public school* biology teacher! I look back with embarrassment for having turned the other cheek, myself.

Christians can try to sell themselves as an embattled, beleagured minority. I'll buy it the next time we elect an openly Atheist president. And try this: put all the self-identified Christian congressmen on one side of an equal-arm balance and the non-Christians on the other. Let us all suppose what that would look like.