In her book Transforming Music Education, Estelle Jorgensen states that, “Notions of freedom, equality, inclusiveness, and humanity invariably collide with systemic pressures toward conformity, injustice, exclusivity, and inhumanity; as a result, they are only ever achieved partially, if at all“ (Pg 6). I agree with this statement and evidence of its truth visibly permeates our culture.
It is true that we uphold freedom, equality, and inclusiveness in our culture, but the same culture we aim to refine is halting our progress with notions of conformity, injustice and exclusivity. We are holding ourselves back. We are stopping progress in one direction with progress in another.
How did we get here? What does our culture really value? I think to myself that both directions are good directions, so why do they seem to contradict? One possible explanation is that the scale to which these truths are being applied are too large. Maybe one size doesn’t fit all. Maybe total individual freedom isn’t a perfect ideal. Maybe we aren’t fit to decide what is best for ourselves all the time (not that someone else should decide for us instead.)
Equality means to be equal, right? Is that qualitative or quantitative I wonder? Are we equal? I know that we aren’t all the same. Equal rights sounds like a good thing, but I am still stuck on what it means to be equal. Jorgensen says that, “equality, inclusiveness, and humanity invariably collide with systemic pressures toward conformity, injustice and exclusivity.”The more I read this the more I am confused. What I do know is that our culture propagates uniqueness and individuality, as well as conformity and orthodoxy.
To what degree is it acceptable to be different? I always smile to myself when I see people with wildly different tastes then my own. Clothes, cars, food, music, houses, hair color…those are reasonable places to see individuality. How about lifestyle, religion, or relationships? Maybe yes, maybe no? As long as my decisions don’t affect you, then you shouldn’t care, right? You don’t judge me, I don’t judge you. This is one aspect of our culture, but there is an equally challenging aspect which is telling us to assimilate, to go with the flow, to conform and to not cause any problems while doing so.
This same culture is responsible for hiring me, as a teacher, to shape the lives of its children. My job is to foster understanding, cognition, synthesis, and perspective. Regardless of my content area, students look to me to find truth and meaning. What should I teach them? I don’t even know where to start. No belief is universally accepted; do I just leave the controversial parts out? What is okay to discuss, what isn’t? I have been counseled to not discuss religion, for example, unless a student independently initiates. What are the rules on discussing other hot topics like homosexuality, abortion, liberalism and conservatism, living with abuse, single parent homes, or poverty?
For me, at least, these are real life scenarios. I have had numerous situations as a teacher where I chose to be restrictive on what I said when discussing certain ethical issues in our culture. I find that as teachers, students look to us for guidance, but what if our guidance looked different than that of the prevailing culture’s guidance?
This is an inherent difficulty, but beautiful opportunity within education. It is beautiful in that we can change the world, and we are expected to do so. It is an attribute unique to our profession that administrators, parents, and fellow teachers all expect you to guide and counsel children into healthy and productive citizens. One amazing part of my job is that I get to work with each student for seven consecutive years. What a privilege and a responsibility!
The inherent challenge is that you can be sued for doing so incorrectly. There has been a shift in the public’s view of teachers. We are sometimes viewed as overpaid, corrupt, and irresponsible. We are supposed to be close enough to make an impact but not so close as to be suspicious. We are supposed to fill student minds with knowledge, but not any sort of knowledge that will shake a cultures status quo.
The way to deal with this is difficult to assess. Teachers need judgment, discernment and integrity. Students need to listen attentively, but ultimately make their own informed decisions. The public should trust our education system, but we need to prove we are trustworthy; removing any type of hidden agendas or self-ambition. Furthermore, culture should embrace fairness and ethics and not rely wholly on schools to instill these ideals in their children. Plurality is real and people will always disagree. Definitions and increasingly strict guidelines are not the answer. We should embrace our human qualities, not define and regulate them.