Sunday, September 21, 2008

Atticus Finch: A Model for Modern Parents

As an update to the events of my We the People post of September 17, I submit the following for your consideration. Okay! I confess. I’m curious about what others might do in this situation and am soliciting opinions from my incredibly wise blog readers.

After coming home from school on Thursday, my #2 child relayed a disturbing incident to me. She told me that when she went to show [her teacher whom I shall refer to as] Mrs. Infallibility (in the hall, after class) that the first words of The Constitution were, in fact, “We the People” and not “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union”, Mrs. Infallibility brushed her off saying “I know, dear. I have a copy of the Constitution, too.” [This was an improvement from the day before when she implied that she was correct because she got it “from the website”.] Even worse than belittling a student who was attempting to correct the misinformation Mrs. Infallibility had relayed to my #2 child not once, but twice, Mrs. Infallibility muttered something to the effect that it wasn’t a good sign that my #2 child’s parents were already starting to question Mrs. Infallibility [now you know where the alias comes from]!

Plainly, Mrs. Infallibility made a benign error about the first words of The Constitution. However, when this mistake was later brought to her attention by a student, [namely, my #2 child] Mrs. Infallibility attempted to justify it on the basis of an incorrect website (the test for US Citizenship) rather than verify it with the original documentation [a copy of which Mrs. Infallibility purports to own], thereby perpetuating the error. By further disparaging a student’s persistent effort to confirm the facts, Mrs. Infallibility taught her that it is not okay to question things she doesn’t understand, that the facts don’t matter, and that she should blindly accept things she is told by her teachers or she will be rebuffed.

The above two paragraphs are abstracted and redacted from a letter I needed to write immediately after hearing about the hallway haughtiness of the history hawker only so I could better understand what happened. Based on a conversation with my daughter on Friday, I have decided not to send that letter originally addressed to the teacher. Still. I wonder. How could this educator possibly think that she was right on any of these three, incrementally increasing in degree-of-error mistakes? And I cringe at the possibly approaching lessons regarding Columbus Day.

So as I often do when I’m in a parenting bind, I have to ask myself WWAD?

I’ll tell you what he would have done. The hero of To Kill a Mockingbird would have quietly shared the truth with his daughter Scout, letting the teacher’s questionable dictates pass with a wink between them, and remained secure in the knowledge that knowing the truth is enough.

Damn – when will I learn?

What would you do?


Anonymous said...

What would I do? Homeschool.

That's what I plan on doing, anyway, when my kids are old enough for school. Of course I know this doesn't work for everyone, but I had more than enough of teachers who didn't want to be questioned on anything. Then I started reading John Holt (Learning All the Time) and that helped me realize that maybe I was one of those people who should've been schooled at home and allowed to decide what I wanted/needed to study.

I realize this doesn't exactly answer your question, but it's the first thing that came to my mind.

Christina said...

Online high school? Think there's a good enough one out there? I have a friend who was homeschooling her son up until this year, and, while he is still at home, he's in charge of his education with an online high school. I'll ask her how it's going next time I talk to her.

Lynne said...

Thanks for the comment, Maya. And it's an excellent suggestion.

She actually asked me to homeschool her 5 years ago, and we did for 2.5 years, and it was good. Then the ugly teenage years of refusal and rebellion began to interfere with our homeschool bliss and we made a mutual decision that it was time for her to go back. I'm quite sure the reason she loves history is because of my husband's enthusiasm as the history teacher when she was homeschooled.

I have told her that she could come home anytime during a break in the school grading calendar (I wouldn't want her to want to be homeschooled again because she feared the academics).

In the meantime, it appears that I must adjust my expectations of what she will learn in school and make certain that she knows the facts and is able to stand up for herself. Both of which should be possible so long as she continues to talk to me.

Lynne said...

Oddly, Fiddler, your comment came to me well after mine posted.

Anyway, I guess what I neglected to include in my post (but not in the letter that I will not send) is that she absolutely loves this class. She loves history. She loves this teacher!

Now what?

C. August said...

This is all speculation because all I currently have to do is make sure that A's preschool teacher doesn't package raving environmental lunacy into the recycling talks they're having now, but that never stopped me from stating my opinion!

If we take the fact that your daughter is otherwise enjoying public school as a given, then the question is "how can she still get something out of it without being damaged?"

It seems that the major issue isn't that Mrs. Infallible made a mistake, but that she would take offense to being questioned and try and squelch the questioning mind of a student. Perhaps this is a chance for a "learning moment" where your daughter can learn that some people are immune to reason, and that even includes adults and teachers.

I doubt that, with parents like you two, one bozo teacher will have much negative impact. And if you can help her to understand that it's not her responsibility to make sure that the teacher respects reason, but only that she herself knows what's right and stands by it, she'll come out stronger for it.

I guess what I'm saying that I agree with Atticus. Not that, in the heat of battle, I wouldn't get pissed enough to want to write a similar letter if an idiot teacher did what Mrs. Infallible did...

objectivistDad said...

I think I would have done what you suggest Atticus would do. In my own words: I would use this as an opportunity to discuss why (emotionally) we don't like to be wrong, what is the rational approach to being told one is wrong, and the varying degrees of reaction that people have to being told they're wrong. If my child was old enough, I would integrate it to an example... perhaps to a general or a CEO who is not getting the right information from his subordinates, because they know he hates being told he's wrong.

Lynne said...

Thanks for the comment, C. August and ObjectivistDad.

My children (and people I've worked with) have referred to me as the queen of angry letters. I like to get my thoughts written down - it helps me figure out what the real issues are - and I rarely end up sending them. However, I am learning to make them less angry and to send them when appropriate, so that's something.

I came to the Atticus conclusion too late to stop my #2 child from pursuing the mistake with her teacher, but I think that she needs to be reminded about that lesson. Afterward, we did discuss a bit about reactions to being challenged by a student, but I neglected to bring up the example from TKAM.

Every once in a while my #2 child tries to straighten me out about the plight of the polar bears, but I hold my ground!

If years past are any indication, I seriously fear for the inevitable Columbus Day conflicts.

Anonymous said...

My initial thought is aligned with objectivistdad's. Child #2 can use this incident as an example of how not to behave. Namely, denying one's error is a dead-end that becomes more ridiculous in proportion to the duration of the charade. Conversely, acknowledging one's error at the moment of realization is a sign of intellectual and moral confidence and competence. Mrs. Infallible's stock has undoubtedly gone down in value in Child #2's eyes. I would make sure that Child #2 has digested that fact and generalized it; she will encounter it a few thousand more times in her lifetime.

Lynne said...

Well said. Particularly the part about the duration of the mistake playing into its ridiculousness. I'd like to think that my daughter can at least sense the moral confidence required to admit one's mistakes. I'm going to have to make sure she can outright identify it.