My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers

archivesAs a child, I wanted to be a scientist. Astronomy called to me, but so did biology, zoology, ecology, geology, and entomology. The world was colossal, and to a youngshysmallguy, science was a way to make it less scary. Diseases, meteors, and volcanoes didn’t have to be terrifying as long as someone could show me how to figure out how and why they worked.

Scientists were my heroes because their superpowers (analysis, facts, cool lab coats) were all things I could acquire without being bitten by radioactive nerds or being born on another planet. They used logic and knowledge to solve problems, and I wanted to do the same. The world was colossally scary, and knowledge made it more comfortable to live in.

When I realized that my existential angst about politics and terrorism could be alleviated the same way, I started to study history, religion, geopolitics, literature, and somehow wandered into writing. I left behind old heroes for new ones, but my heroes were still teachers helping me make sense of the world.

This country is brutal to those who teach literature and art, but it is just as brutal to science teachers, who face an ugly twofold set of challenges: First, American traditional values that scrutinize and punish teachers for discussing science that disrupts the status quo, from evolution (contrary to religious conservatism) to climate change (a threat to capitalism). Secondly, there is the marketplace that teachers must prepare science students for, and competition for jobs and grants can be limiting. Humanities teachers face the same set of challenges, but they have enough irony and bitterness to make themselves feel better about it.

Obviously, education systems are far from perfect. Many public schools are underfunded, and university faculty face scrutiny from students, voters, and states. Even under ideal circumstances, teaching requires long, draining hours, and my own experiences with teaching so far attest to that workload. Individual teachers must work against these forces and use what intellectual energy they have left to assure students that the world, as horrifying as it is, can make sense. Teaching requires profound courage in the face of limited resources coupled with deliberate opposition. The best teachers  I had possessed a superpower, and only now do I realize that their superpower was the strength to keep teaching through the cacophony of discouraging voices.

It’s a power I may not possess myself. The new administration is making education even harder with its intentions to cut funding for the humanities and restrict scientists from making scientific facts public. Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education is a tangible threat to public school teachers, given the likelihood that she will push for cutting funds to public education while supporting education’s privatization, which potentially allows leaders in the private sector to control the education of their workforce.

And yet dedicated teachers push forward to understand the increasingly ugly world. I gave up science for writing, but they cannot be separated. Science meets politics and history, and we meet them back with art and social science and language. Teachers now face the full power of the state and its worst citizens, and it now requires even greater moral courage than before to teach science and literature. We need social studies teachers unafraid to tell students what their rights are, biology teachers who are not attacked for discussing climate change,  and history teachers who are not punished for pointing out this country’s hideous past and present of slavery and internment and anti-immigration policies. This country is a furnace of anti-intellectual interests, and it takes strength to teach despite those interests.

I draw my own courage from the quiet heroism of educators I’ve been lucky enough to know, the ones who brought me to this point, uncertain and bitter but not confused. Afraid, but not afraid to know more, to pull back the curtain and look for how and why and what now.

-jk

4 thoughts on “My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers

  1. eliinprogress

    This was a wonderful post. Growing up with a mom as a teacher, I’ve seen her face many of the challenges you stated and it’s crazy to me that teachers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. I mean, here they are literally changing lives, educating the future citizens of this place, and even sometimes being the only person a kid can turn to… craziness, man. thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

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  2. LARRY NORRED

    “Teachers now face the full power of the state and its worst citizens, and it now requires even greater moral courage than before to teach science and literature. We need social studies teachers unafraid to tell students what their rights are, biology teachers who are not attacked for discussing climate change, and history teachers who are not punished for pointing out this country’s hideous past and present of slavery and internment and anti-immigration policies. This country is a furnace of anti-intellectual interests, and it takes strength to teach despite those interests.”

    MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TEACHERS

    You know there are many good teachers out here that don’t agree with the positions that you take on all these subjects. There are teachers who are actually proud of their country and see no shame in saying that. I love my country and nothing you can do or say can take that pride away from me. You can’t prove that I don’t deserve the right to share my thoughts. I don’t see all the negative things you see because they are simply not true. There are good students that don’t have to be violent arrogant protesters to get their point across to other thinking people. I’m not afraid of any intellectual pursuit and I know you are utterly convinced that your are right. I am not afraid of your immigrant friends and never have been. I welcome all of them except the ones who are here to hurt us. Surely you can see that side of the argument even from your ivory tower. I pray (some teachers still do that) that none of your special family of intellectuals is ever harmed by the likes of MS-13, drugs, theft of personal property, etc.

    I’m sorry you don’t, but I love America and everything for which it stands.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. keeneshort Post author

      Great. Thank you for trolling me, Mr. Norred. I’m glad you have something to think about when you masturbate. I also appreciate your insinuating that I made arguments I never actually made in the post. I made no statement about whether or not teachers can or should pray, I made not attempt to convince you that you should not love your country, and I made no claim that you “don’t deserve the right” to share your thoughts. I’m also intrigued by your sudden discussion of violent student protestors, which has literally nothing to do with this post about a culture of mistrust of teachers. If you’re going to troll someone, consider using a more recent post to boost your target’s stats, and consider giving your target more to work with by actually referencing what your target argues instead of making things up. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.

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