I’ve had thoughts swirling around in my head about the title of this post for several days now. It first came to me in the aftermath of being totally vilified in a comment I made on a friend’s post about the election results in Tennessee. Elections generally only allow you to vote in black and white. Yes or No. This candidate or that one.
(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a section that said “Yes, except…” or “No, but…”?)
I sometimes forget that people don’t want to have a discussion on social media. They want to be “right.” And if you disagree, even with cause, you are an immediate enemy.
Thankfully, my “flesh and blood” friends (the ones I see in the flesh and interact with verbally rather than the ones I “talk” to online) allow for gray in our relationships. I have extremely great friends that disagree with me on political matters, sexuality matters, women’s rights matters, and more. And yet we allow each other the space to have our own opinions without dominating or destroying our relationship.
I’m afraid the discussions on education are quickly moving out of the debate or discuss realm and into the online Tyranny of the Absolute.
- You are either for or against Common Core. You can’t say, “Well, I kind of like this, but I don’t like that.” The absolutists quickly put you in the other camp from their own and you are left out of the discussion entirely.
- You are either for or against teacher tenure. You can’t say, “Well, I think it works here, but it doesn’t really work there.”
- You are either for or against teacher unionization. You can’t say, “Well, the unions have done a really great job here, but I can’t join because of that over there.”
- You are either for or against your Superintendent. You can’t say, “Well, I really like what she’s done here, but I can’t support that decision over there.”
- You are either for or against STEM, PBL, Standards Based Grading, the State DOE, this new initiative, that new software… It gets old really, really fast.
When you enter the Tyranny of the Absolutes the ones who proclaim tolerance become extremely intolerant. The ones who claim they don’t like standardization become extremely standardized in their belief system. The ones who claim to want more openness and transparency become extremely secretive themselves.
The Internet doesn’t help us here. If you read an article from Fox News or MSNBC, FB gives you more articles that are similar to that one. If you search for something online, Google makes sure you see that thing everywhere you go, even if you already bought it. The Internet says, “You must like this, I’ll cram more of it down your throat.” In doing so, we become insulated to other thoughts. Other ideas. Other paradigms.
And we inch ever closer to the Tyranny of the Absolute.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a real feeling of safety and satisfaction in believing in absolutes. It drives people to do things they would not ordinarily do, like drink the kool-aid in Jonestown or protest the funerals of servicemen and women, or blow yourself up in the middle of a crowded street.
Living in the gray is scary. It requires constant rethinking, analyzing, researching, listening, accepting, and still coming up with a personal belief system that doesn’t betray who you are as a human being.
Its also very much more human. Its civilized. Its Democratic. Its freeing and liberating. Its energizing. It makes one feel alive.
Perhaps that should be the goal of education. Rather than “college and career ready” (which makes me gag these days), perhaps “being fully human,” or “being fully alive” would be a better result of 12 to 16 years of education.
I don’t know.
(Man, Absolutists hate those words. They must be good to say every now and then).