There has been a lot of discussion about the educational space about what materials are being taught, presented, or available to students at different levels and I have made some observations about these discussions.
First, I’d like to preface this by saying that I am a parent to a first grader, a biology master’s degree holder, and a public high school teacher for 15 years. I have been at this a long time and I can see some generalities and relationships but I would by no means call myself an educational expert and I am not passing myself off as such but it seems that people who are parents and/or have attended school at some time in their lives are becoming experts on what kids are supposed to learn and how they are supposed to learn.
Let’s just reminder ourselves what an expert is:
“having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience” from The Merriam Webster Dictionary
None of those things I listed make me an expert, the masters degree and 15 years of experience definitely give me a leg up but I am not an expert about ALL children. My experience in the classroom gives me insights into what works and what doesn’t work but my experience is still fairly limited to my school (a high school), in my district (large suburban district), in my state (NJ). I do not have experience with students living in different areas of the country or students in different educational levels other than my students or the experience I have limited to my own elementary age child.
The information I have is what we call anecdotal despite the fact that over the course of my career I have probably taught close to 1500 students (creating research studies for human participants is incredibly difficult). However, because of those 1500 students I have gained some wisdom and insight but even if I can talk louder than the person next to me that doesn’t mean I am an expert. Being a parent definitely doesn’t come with any special training and attending a school does not give you experience for all students in all different types of schools.
As a parent, you have the right to control your child but children shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. If you have a problem with your child being exposed to other ideas or a variety of people then you should probably opt to homeschool them. Teachers are there to teach all children the information they need to be a member of society — unless you plan to live in a commune or completely separate from society your child will face people who think, act, and ARE different. If you want your child to be constantly disappointed that life doesn’t measure up to their vision of it; if you are afraid that what you are teaching at home will crumble the minute your child is exposed to a new idea or a new way of thinking it might be a time to step back and re-evaluate.
Ideas get stronger as they are discussed, contested, and refined. Multiple viewpoints (theoretically, congress notwithstanding) make better ideas. I am a firm believer that “expertise” often comes from collaborative efforts because when we discuss the human condition there are so many variables that no one person or entity could possibly have all the answers.
I am a cis-gendered, straight teacher but I have had LGBTQIA students. I am a white teacher but I have had students with a variety of racial backgrounds. This means not every lesson is going to land the same with every student. There are days where I see certain students light up and “get it”; these connections happen because I create lessons that are accessible to the kids who have a dual-parent household and the kids who might be struggling because mom or dad is absent (or many other difficult stories, you would be surprised what goes on in kids’ lives even in “nice” suburban schools).
It is not my job to teach only to my cis, straight, white students. My job as an educator is to care for all the students in my classroom and to teach them ALL to the best of my ability.
But for me, as a parent, to fight against “And Tango Makes Three” because it depicts two male penguins adopting a baby chick and making a family is ludicrous because that is the reality for some of my students and some of my daughter’s classmates. My daughter (at least at this point) is also cis, white, and straight but her classmates are not and they deserve to see representations of themselves as much as my daughter deserves to see herself in the stories told at school.
You want a teacher who teaches your child different lessons in different ways; that will ensure your child understands it better. You want a teacher who is able to push back against your child’s ideas and misconceptions — this is how we learn after all. You want teachers who help build your child’s critical thinking skills.
Being a critical thinker doesn’t mean that your ideas are always accepted or never challenged; being a critical thinker means that your child will question and evaluate the information and then grow from it.
Children need teachers who are supportive but also willing to be devil’s advocate; children need teachers that are going to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to all the beautiful aspects of this human life.
Equip your child with the skills and the values that they need to live; in a perfect society that happens as a partnership between what you value in your home and what is taught in the school. Let your children see their role in the beautiful tapestry because that will help them be successful as they grow up.