Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Lesson Taught A Long Time Ago

First Notes of "Civics" Class - Sept 5, 6 1963

Recently on Facebook, friends of mine started to reminisce about the years that we spent together back in the early 1960s at West Side Junior High School in Groton, Connecticut.  Their posts and some of their photos caused me to review a special binder that I have kept over the past 47 years - my class notes from Mr Dander's 9th grade "Civics" class 1963 to 1964.  "Civics" as defined by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is "A social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens"

Strangely enough, yesterday when I reviewed the binder it was exactly 47 years to the day of our first class with Mr. Dander.

I was struck by some points from the first classes with Mr. Dander.  The first was:

"Have and keep an objective mind (see the good and bad of a person)"  As some of were to say later in that decade "Wow man that is heavy!"  How many of us fail to see both sides of a person?  Isn't it so much easier and comfortable to only see the "good" or only the "bad" of a person?  However being easier and perhaps more comfortable does not necessarily mean accurate or truthful.  However seeing the "good" as well as the "bad" in a person makes giving them a label much more difficult.  Labelling is the sanctuary and refuge of the intellectually lazy.  A label most often does not fully account for the complexities and nuances of a person's experiences, actions, personality, or beliefs.  A label confines a person to a narrow definition which makes judgement very easy.  A label encourages all the abuses that prejudice can justify in one's mind.  How many labels are being tossed around so casually today?  Racist, Terrorist, Socialist, Radical, Liberal, Conservative, Marxist, Progressive ... How are these labels making it more difficult to compromise and to have a reasonable discussion of real issues, and the finding of "common ground"?

When I am asked about who are my heroes I respond "There are people that I admire. There are people that I respect. What is a hero? To make someone a hero is to give them a free pass. People should not have free passes. Each and every day we need to prove ourselves, and to be judged on what we did or did not do that day."  I believe this and now wonder if this class planted the seed or was it a compilation of disappoints in people over the years?

The second point from the first class notes, is "Base all your statements on fact not prejudice" Prejudice, according to Random House American Dictionary, is "opinion formed without specific evidence"  So we are all guilty at some point of prejudice.  It is not solely a racial philosophy.  We can be prejudice "for" or "against" anything or anyone. It is the fact that our opinion is formed without specific evidence.  The other day I read an article on the Internet regarding the alleged enslavement of 400 Thai workers in America.  The article went on and stated that are more workers enslaved in America today than at the time of the President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. According to Wikipedia, 4,000,000 slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War.  Are there more than 4,000,000 enslaved workers in America today?  Where did the author of the get a number for "enslaved workers" in America today?  What is the definition for being a "enslaved worker" today?  These questions were not answered in the article.  They should have been.  They need to be. As citizens we should demand that authors and their related organizations be held accountable for the factual basis or lack of factual basis of their statements and opinions.  We should accept no less from ourselves or from those that we agree with.  What is the specific evidence that is the basis for your opinion?

The third point from Mr Dander's class was "We must forget our prejudices".  This goes hand in hand with keeping an objective mind.  If we remain prisoners to our prejudices we are unable to have an objective mind.  Without objective minds cooperating together to resolve common problems is extremely difficult with each person barricading themselves behind the walls of their prejudices, hearing only their own voice, spending their time as well as energy defending their unsubstantiated opinions. Much like what appears to be going on in so many circles today.

These were lessons to be learned a very long time ago.  These lessons were followed by lessons regarding the US Constitution and Connecticut Constitution.  I have long ago forgotten what Article 8 of the Connecticut Constitution (something to do with Yale University) and to be frank it has not had any impact on me in the ensuing 47 years.

 However, I have never forgotten the concepts of  "Have and keep an objective mind (see the good and bad of a person)", "Base all your statements on fact not prejudice", and "We must forget our prejudices".  These concepts have served me well and I suspect that I am not the sole beneficiary of these precepts.  These were lessons learned a long time ago but just as important to be learned today.

Mr Dander was not necessarily one of my favorite teachers but even after 47 years his impact on students, at least me, is evident and undeniable.  Teaching is much more than getting students to memorize a series of events and dates.  The true impact of teaching is instructing students on how to think rather than what to think and exposing students to different concepts so that they may formulate their own opinions based upon evidence.  Mr Dander did a fine job so many years ago.

It is astounding to contemplate how many lives a good teacher can impact.  It is frightening to contemplate how many lives a poor teacher can impact.

In those days there was a campaign for CARE - "Give a man a fish and he will eat for the day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime".  The saying actually goes back many hundreds of years to Confucius.  So it is with teachers - They can teach us facts and dates in order that we can succeed on an exam.  They can teach us how to think for ourselves and expose us to themes as well as concepts in order that we may succeed and contribute in life.

It is to good teachers that we all owe our thanks and appreciation - for lessons taught.

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