By Lucas J. Mather, Ph.D.
Someone at church today, a young woman in graduate school for philosophy, asked me what I liked most about teaching and what I disliked the most .
In a sense, there’s not a damn thing I dislike about it. There never had been. But, there is a lot more I dislike about it in the present context than I like , if “it” refers not to teaching but to all of the things that get in the way of it, in the present context.
Here’s just an example.
We were driving by PG High School recently where I used to run everyday with the SEALs for our Navy run team. On the outside announcement thingy they have for people driving by , it said “Celebrate Native American history month” or “day” or something to that effect. Let’s focus in on this example for a sec.
Set aside *why* for a moment . *How* in the world are the students or anyone driving by supposed to “celebrate” this ? First , what exactly *is* it ? What is this day or month ? Am I supposed to just make it up ? Why is that okay ? Says who? According to what tradition ? Should I look for federally regulated eagle feathers or ? Should I grab some bingo cards ? Drums or poker cards ?
Which tribe, assuming you’re really talking about American *Indians* (as opposed to native american born Indian Americans whose grandparents are from Bombay) (as opposed to celebrating nativism in the white European-ancestor tradition, which is actually the source for the KKK’s antipathy toward European Catholic immigrants a century ago)1.
I know *how* to celebrate Christmas and Easter and 4th of July and Thanksgiving. That’s because from a very young age, it was modeled for me. It’s clear, it’s distinct what those days are *for* and how to celebrate them.
So that’s one issue: how to “celebrate” it. Why celebrate it? Is it even a thing ? Says who? According to what clear and distinct tradition? Why is the high school telling me, or any body, let alone minor aged students , telling me what to do?
Why doesn’t the sign say “celebrate Christmas “? It’s a state holiday. It’s not unrelated to the school year . We divide the school year up where we do based on that holiday.
Or how about this: If we have to have a sign outside for everyone driving by to see: why not a sign —if you need one—telling us to study Trigonometry! ? That seems much more appropriate for a high school sign . I wouldn’t have any unanswered questions about that sign. Why, how: That would be clear.
I would still ignore it, like I did the other sign, but maybe some students wouldn’t .
However, no one would get in trouble for obeying it. I’ve never heard of a kid getting in trouble for studying Trigonometry.
But if a half naked kid brought a Bison-sinew-strung bow and deer-blood covered, triple eagle-feathered arrows to school, dressed in Kiowa Apache1 war paint …and scalped a Trigonometry teacher, after Tomahawking the janitor , um. (Yes blood was used to create and preserve the arrows).2 (Yes, each eagle feather you touch now is a separate felony).3
My sign would be : Think for Yourself. Or, even better: Obey my command and think for yourself.
Mind-numbing crap is ubiquitous on campus, in emails, bulletins, meetings, hiring, firing, crap that has Nothing to do with the mission of the institution. And in fact, given our short attention spans and deep desires to be good people , or to be seen that way with the least amount of effort as possible, this crap actually gets in the way of the mission of the school by obfuscating that mission at the very least , and by actively countering it at the most (and that does happen with grade inflation and the constant invitation for complaints with new regulation and entitlement).
Teaching and learning is the mission of the schools, and that requires clarity of thought, focus, discipline, a little bit of fear of the material and the teacher, respect for the material, respect for the classroom, hard work, delight, joy, room to breathe, free from regulatory and administrative micromanagement . It requires a regular reminder that the school “experience”, whether college or high school, should be primarily a wrestling with the material with a view toward mastery.
It’s no wonder the cost of “education” has increased astronomically relative to what you get, unlike , say, televisions or phones, where the opposite is true.
To her great credit, the young woman at church , she took this in like a champ. And she’s bothered by it, too.
We have to change “education” back to teaching and learning . Nothing else can save the institution. Nothing else is truly EDUCATION.
1 See Philip Hamburger’s magisterial The Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002). Look in the index under “KKK.” The Democrats loved their separation of church and state !
2 See W.W. Newcomb, Jr. The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press) for a description of some Kiowas being absorbed by the Apaches. American Indian slavery pre-dated European discovery and settlement of North America.
3 Ibid., the chapter on the Lipan Apaches
4See the First Amendment podcast called “Stream of Conscience,” the 8 March 2018 episode titled “Feds and Feathers”, available on Soundcloud here, https://soundcloud.com/streamofconscience/feds-and-feathers
Originally published to Professor Mather’s Facebook page Sunday December 5, 2021 at 2:16 pm
Copyright Lucas J. Mather, 2021
All Rights Reserved