Why become a teacher is the question posed Bill Ayers at his lecture earlier this month at Teachers College, hosted by the Columbia University Seminar of Innovation in Education. Ayers acknowledged to the education students in the SRO audience that it is unfortunate but for the time being, teachers are targeted not as solution, but as the problem. Ayers posed this scenario: what if an alien parachuted in from Mars? How would this alien know it landed in a democracy? Would the students it sees have a voice, express their imagination freely, be naturally curious and hold an opinion? Or would the alien witness students conforming and seeking instead to find a place in the hierarchy?
How do we go about foregrounding democratic qualities and values such as initiative, courage, imagination, creativity, and developing one’s own viewpoint? The point is, Ayers explained, is that we demand the same for all of our children in our community exactly what the children of the wisest and privileged demand for their children. The problem is that the majority of our children did not “choose the right parents” for those in power get to define/frame the problem and the solution.
Ayers suggested posting a copy of the UN’s Charter of Human Rights Article 26 in the classroom to remind the teacher’s what their purpose is as an educator and use as a standard of inspiration:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Ayers also suggested Mary Oliver’s Instructions for a Good Life to guide teachers:
• pay attention
• be astonished
• do something about it
Read more about the UN charter at http://bit.ly/SqjvG
William Ayers is the author of Teaching the Taboo: courage and imagination in the classroom as well as Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC.