On Activism

My philosophy towards teaching is that it is a sort of sacrosanct profession. It is something that is too important to take lightly and a teacher should never overstep the bounds of his or her subject. This particular thinking of mine resulted from having, in public (state-funded) schools, my own teachers teaching me things they really shouldn’t have. For example, a history teacher taught me creationism and “scientific proofs” of the bible (I could write a whole post on his nonsense alone, it was beyond ridiculous), a science teacher taught me horrendous pseudo-history, and English teachers taught me a whole variety of pseudoscience.

I remember meeting a number of foreigners who came to Korea to teach English who talked about seeing themselves as missionaries. They saw this as an opportunity for religious activism, to convert their students to Christianity (there’s not really a separation of church and state here and there’s no rules against teaching Christianity in public schools, I’ve seen it often amongst Korean teachers as well). I was appalled and expressed this to them. A teacher’s job is to teach a particular subject, not impart your own ideology onto your students or indoctrinate them into your own beliefs.

That being said, I try to fit skepticism into every part of my job that I can. Why is this not hypocritical? Well, the one universal thing that every teacher is supposed to be teaching is critical thinking. And it just so happens that the one universal thing that every skeptic is supposed to be doing is critical thinking. Scientific skepticism is the epitome of what teachers are supposed to foster in their students: looking critically at the world, evaluating claims, changing prior beliefs to fit with reality from the best available evidence. This is what we are supposed to be doing in every subject.

However, my own beliefs go beyond the subjects I teach. My passion for scientific skepticism might be better suited for a science class, and yet I teach English. So do I crowbar my scientific thinking into my English classes just as those aforementioned teachers brought their religious beliefs into their own classrooms? No. I just teach English. I use skepticism in my approach to teaching but I don’t even mention it to my students, because it would be a violation of the sacrosanct duties and responsibilities of teaching I hold so dear.

Where then do I direct my efforts for activism in the things I value? In the places where one is supposed to. Recently, a politician did yet another thing I didn’t like. As a member of his constituency, I went to his official government website and used his contact form (again). I carefully wrote a reasoned letter to him and submitted it. Instead of preaching to my students, I write letters. I am doing activism for the things that are important to me, but I leave it out of my classroom because that is not the place for it.

There is room for activism in teaching, but it doesn’t lie in indoctrinating our students.

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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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