Sunday, March 30, 2008

teaching independent thinking

In a small bookstore in aspen, CO I found a book titled, The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees. I was a religion major in under grad and so am always interested in reading about relations between religious communities.

The book turns out to interest me more than just as a story of relations between religious communities. The main character, Omar Yussef, is a teacher at a UN school for refugee girls in Bethlehem. He has been a teacher throughout his life and has taught students of all religious during his various teaching assignments. His passion is teaching students to think with an open mind, and act honorably. While these are important lessons for students growing up in a terrorized community, Omar is being forced into retirement by the UN, who fears differences of opinions within the safe camp. As the community violence worsens, Omar is realizing that his students who took his message to heart are the ones being killed for their open minded actions. By not following the code the various terrorist groups in the city have laid out, Omar's students are killed despite their innocent actions. Omar is haunted by wondering if his teachings caused their deaths.

In looking over so many of the Passion Quilt meme pictures of my coworkers and other teachers in the blogging community, it is evident so many of us share the passion for teaching students to be open minded, independent problem solvers. We all phrased it in different ways and gave it different pictures, but for the most part we all show a strong desire for our students to be open minded, free thinkers. I think such beliefs are a sign of passionate, caring teachers. We're not creating cookie-cutter children, but ones who truly know how to think.

How easy is it for us in our country to teach such lofty ideals? Sure we complain about NCLB and are frustrated with how it limits our ability to teach open minded problem solving, but it is merely a standardized test and not a terrorist organization with guns.

Reading Omar's thoughts about his students and his teachings is diving into the head of a truly reflective teacher. Does he teach the basics, leaving out the independent thinking? It will be easier for his career if he teaches safely, but is that fair to the students? Yet giving them the power of free thinking is leading them toward their own deaths. Does he go on teaching what he believes is right, hoping that one day enough students will listen to him to change the ways of Bethlehem, or does he protect his students, himself, and his family, by teaching the way he has been asked to teach?

The book is a fictional account of real events, and while Omar is a fictional character, Rees captures his soul-searching and deep questions in a way that make you wonder if there is a right answer.

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