Friday, November 11, 2005

A question about encouraging tolerance...

A good friend of mine posed the following question: If you were appointed or elected the USA philosopher king, how would you design and mandate an education program for all that would breed tolerance for diversity in society? On thinking about it, I realize: It is not about designing the right program. It is about having a program at all.

Silicon valley, where brilliant and intellectually awake people from all over the world have gathered to create new industries, is almost completely colour-blind, religion-blind, nationality-blind, and culture-blind. Pakistanis and Indians, Christians and Atheists, Sikhs, Jews and everyone else, work, party and dream together without animus. If they have cultural affiliations, they celebrate them without shoving it in each others' faces. They have seen how small the world is, and they have no patience for tribalism. That is a consequence of education.

The danger to the U.S. is that our culture, outside a few havens, is deeply suspicious of education, and actively hostile to the concept of a broad and deep humanistic education. Even people who are not christian fundamentalists scorn “nerds” and “geeks”--terms which have no equivalent in most Asian languages. We need to change, or we will end up doing their laundry.

So how can we change? It starts with parents caring and being involved in, and valuing education. The process of education itself leads to greater understanding and tolerance, so the objective of tolerance need not be an explicit motivation. Yes, of course teachers should seek to build inclusiveness into their classroom environment, and intervene when children display prejudice and intolerance. But classroom sessions on tolerance, as well as on “self esteem”, are a silly waste of time. Those are values that are embedded in the larger enterprise of life, or not.

So we come full circle to your question: as philosopher king, or, say, President, I would use the bully pulpit to extoll the values of education and intellectual achievment, instead of snickering at them; I would not go around making it a point of pride that I was a “C” student. I would side, uncompromisingly, with the teaching of science in schools, and not with those who want to dilute it with religion.

On the economic front: Even a doctrinaire fiscal conservative must recognize when government investment in a public good is essential to our future—and education so clearly belongs in that category. We have to shift funding into, not out of, public education. But that investment must come with quality controls (not standardized tests, thank you). We should make a bargain with the teachers’ unions: We will double your pay if you agree to give up the possibility of lifetime tenure. There is nothing like better pay to attract the best; and there is nothing more effective at ensuring high performance than knowing your job depends on it.

So, to me the answer is very little about diversity, and all about allowing people to develop their minds. Do that, and tolerance will almost certainly follow.

Ok, my friend, what would YOU do?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On education for tolerance:

Most classrooms are intolerant of children's opinions. Teachers must listen to children and ensure that children listen to each other.

Books for all classes from Standard II upwards should include readings from other cultures.

Schools should make group projects on other cultures (concluding with presentations) a compulsory part of the middle school curriculum.

Parents from differing backgrounds should visit the school regularly to support these activities.

Films shown in the school should be selected to support htis objective.

Admissions policy and reruitment policy should be consciously multi-ethnic and multi-racial to the extent possible.

November 13, 2005 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear P.K.:

Please consider mandating, effective immediately that 1st year elementary, middle school and high school teachers must, by law, be paid at least the average salary of 1st year JD's and MBA's from top 10 schools in THEIR first year of post-graduate, real work. Annual increases for the teachers must at least track core inflation with special bonuses for teaching kids to love education and to behave civilly as defined by the P.K.

2. Please announce, in your role as P.K., at least 2x/month in a national address, that all teachers EXCEPT university professors, are by definition national treasures worthy of the utmost respect by everyone else in society. University professors MIGHT be worthy of great respect but it's not automatic unless they are a full professor who teaches at least two undergrad courses each semester.

3. Anyone caught by the P.K. questionning Darwin's theory of evolution without solid scientific evidence or trying to inject religion into public education shall be, after a quick trial, sentenced to read the works of Freud, Darwin, Moliere, Pasteur, Salk and Sinclair Lewis and to report, in writing, on what they learned.

4. I recommend that the P.K. require that all students participate in team sports, music ed. and art ed. Any student who wants to play a sport and shows desire and discipline will be a member of the team. No cuts for lack of ability. Cuts for lack of desire, heart or discipline are allowed.

5. Public school class size, in all grades, must be be any larger than class sizes in the public schools of Orinda, CA.

6. Race must never be used as an excuse for a school to be below standard.

7. Teachers must be able to substitute 2 years of teaching in a poor neighborhood with 2 years of military service with the same benefits as those due soldiers.

Any school that cannot afford to pay for these changes from local taxes shall be able to draw from a national fund that comes from a set aside of 10 pct. Of public works projects voted annually by the various State and Federal legislatures.


November 17, 2005 9:43 AM  

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