In 2016, Should Teachers Take Sides?

At their core, teachers and journalists have something in common. They wield questions and seek truth. At their most courageous, they speak that truth to power, and inspire others to do the same. At their most complacent - and perhaps dangerous - they remain neutral in the face of injustice.

Jorge Ramos, a journalist admired by many for courageous questioning, has written a book called Take A Stand. I'm looking at the first few pages now. It's a weeknight, school tomorrow, and I'm transcribing some passages as I watch a 2016 Republican Debate.

I've made a few changes - [in brackets] - like replacing "journalist" with "teacher." The rest is all Ramos.

I imagine he writes about teaching:

I love being a [teacher]. It's the only profession in the world [that draws its core fire from youth: idealistic, creative,] rebellious and irreverent. In other words, being a [teacher] keeps you forever young... [I]t's the best job in the world. But we can and should use [teaching] as a weapon for a higher purpose: social justice.

... We achieve the most in [teaching] - and in life - when we are engaged, when we question those in power, when we confront the politicians who abuse their authority, when we speak up and denounce injustice. The best [teaching] is revealed when [our curriculum honors and empowers] the victims - the most vulnerable ones, those whose rights have been neglected or abused. And the best [teaching] comes, of course, when we stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize our moral obligation to sing the truth to those in power.

...I'm advocating for the practicing of [teaching] with perspective. This means being transparent and acknowledging to [our students] that we have opinions, as well as a code of ethics. We don't live in a vacuum... It's perfectly acceptable to take a stand, to refuse to be neutral. In fact it's an imperative.

...I'm arguing here for point-of-view [teaching].

...But taking sides does not mean being partisan. That would be promoting propaganda, or something even worse: using the profession to enable others to come to power, and to remain there.

More than anything, taking sides means refusing to remain silent in the face of injustice. The worst thing we can do in this profession is to choose silence.

...Throughout my career, I have met many [teachers] - some of them rebels - who have refused to keep quiet, who have risked everything up to and including their own lives to defend what they consider to be morally correct and true.

To put it in religious terms, [teaching] was my salvation. My career didn't promise me eternal life, but at least it provided me with a more honest and intense moral existence. Whatever might exist beyond that is impossible to know.

Very early on I learned that rebellion brought me closer to truth and justice than obedience did. And that, I think, is why I chose a profession that requires one to doubt and question the world [- and to inspire the same in others.]

Two teacher colleagues of mine will begin an intense Socratic Seminar with 9th graders. There have been weeks of preparation. The essential questions focus on race, prejudice, and our criminal justice system. Choosing such topics is part of taking a stand. There will be honesty, intensity, doubt and questions.

I can't wait.