Over the summer, I decided to make two blogs. I suppose the initial inspiration behind the new blog was two-fold. First of all, I wanted to secure my position as a person who was not completely dependent on work for his identity; I was also tackling some rather intense personal issues (at least relative to what my personal life had been previously), so I figured a new and fresh blog was one way to cope. In retrospect, I think I also was trying to compartmentalize these two parts of me. I was trying to put “Paul” in one box, while putting “Mr. France” in another.
I have since realized that this idea is next to impossible.
I’m not sure why, but I wanted to believe that those two people were two different ones, independent of one another and capable of being torn apart at a moment’s notice. However, this fallacy is no more than mere impossibility.
We are one, embodied being. We are complex and multi-faceted, and putting parts of ourselves into categories is neither productive nor healthy. Just like I tried to over the summer, it is impossible for me to keep all of my thoughts about these various sectors of my life in two different places. My personal will affect my professional and vice-versa. But I like it that way. Or at least I’ve realized that lately.
But wait a second. This can get a bit dicey, though. When the lines blur between personal and professional life, it can get rather dangerous for a teacher. You see, teachers are dealing with something that is, in my opinion, a bit more special than the average professional. Teachers are dealing with other people’s children. We are responsible for educating and caring for someone else’s entire world from the hours of eight o’clock until two thirty almost every day. Trust is put in us, and it is quite a large responsibility.
One idea that I consistently grapple with is the idea of values. Who’s job is it to teach these kids values? Depending on the perspective from which you examine this question, you could get many different viewpoints. Some may believe that it is the parents’ job to provide values. After all, the children do “belong” to them, and they are, in most ways, responsible for helping guide them spiritually and morally. On the other hand, if we, as educators, were not allowed to teach values at all, then children would be growing up in a school that was not educating the whole child–one devoid of service projects, character education, and social-emotional targets.
But where do we draw the line? To whom do we give the responsibility of teaching values? Better yet, how do we divide the values that need to be taught between the two different parties? Who is to say which values are okay to teach in school and which are not?
I’m sure that in the midst of the 1960s, segregation and racism were hot topics, hard pressed to find as common topics of discussion within the schools. Such is the case with same-sex marriage today. Most teachers, even ones whom I respect immensely both professionally and personally, cringe at the idea of conquering that topic with his or her students. Why? Not because many believe it shouldn’t be taught, but because they do not want to step on parents’ toes. They don’t want to get in trouble, and they do not want to violate the trust that parents have instilled within teachers to communicate the politically accepted values.
Where do values come from?
Values are a mere construction of the experiences we’ve had, coupled with the context in which those experiences are grounded. Let’s say church, our friends, extensions of our families, and perhaps even school. Take for instance, the golden rule. That is a well-accepted value that is ingrained into many parts of modern society, and it is one value that most parents would probably have no qualms about their child learning in school. Notice my wording, though. I have not used the terms “right” or “wrong;” rather, I have only used the term well-accepted, because all values are subjective, no matter how “right” or “wrong” you or I may believe them to be.
So herein lies the question: Should values be taught in school at all? Should teachers be allowed to voice their opinions on anything? Or should they only be allowed to voice their opinions on the politically correct, or well-accepted constructs on which our society is currently grounded. Certainly if a child was being bullied outside, any self-respecting teacher would step in almost immediately to help protect the child that is being bullied. However, at the end of the day, the perception that bullying is wrong is still, at its core, a value. As a society, we have come to build up this notion that poking fun or singling someone out is not in the best interests of the community or the individual.
Or let’s take segregation, prejudice, and racism. In our current society, these three ideas are commonly viewed as wrong and unjust, and any act that suggests otherwise, within a school, would be shamed vigorously, as this acceptance of other races has come to be a mainstream value that we hold dear.
But then what about gay marriage? If we are preaching equality, and if we are mandating acceptance regardless of skin color and religious belief, then why can we not communicate this value, this belief in equal treatment for all, including those of all sexual orientations? Why do we shy away from the topic, if we have decided, as a society, that our founding principle is “liberty and justice for all?”
How did we get as far as we have with acceptance of diverse cultures (although some may not argue we’ve come all that far), and how are we going to get to the point where same-sex marriage becomes a well-accepted, mainstream value?
Better yet, does it make me any different than the right-wing anti-gay believers, when I am so vehemently pushing this to become an accepted American value? Or am I simply pushing for the right for something that others have?
Tearing Me Apart
It’s impossible to tear myself apart. I am one man–not a compartmentalized robot that leaves his personal convictions in the car so that he can uphold his professional ones. In fact, as a teacher, the lines between professional and personal convictions blur immensely. If it were not for my personal convictions, I would not have become a teacher. I wanted to be relevant, change the world, affect others, and be a positive role model. In order to do so, I need to operate off of my values, not the values that society has constructed for me.
But the answer isn’t that simple. What if there is a teacher that is against same-sex marriage? I’m sure there are many out there. If I am able to communicate my values in support of it, does that mean that they should be able to communicate their values in opposition?
Certainly that’s what it would mean.