Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The York University Saga II

This is a response I wrote to critics of my York University assessment post - from last week.

To All

I will not reply specifically to the silly name calling and nonsensical grunts that define some of the last few barbs directed at me and others. Instead I wish to focus on the overall assertion that I am anti-York. This is not true.

York University has its problems as does every institution of higher learning. However its through these challenges that systems evolve…often for the better. My critique of the strike situation was not intended to rub salt in already festering wounds but rather to highlight a bigger picture that extends beyond this particular context. It was directed at the wider system. Overall York University is a force of good in the universe (as are the vast majority of higher education institutions…. even Berkley) but this does not mean that it has many fissures and chasms that need to be addressed. This was the focus of my reply.

I have mentioned before that I attended York’s MST program. My net experience was certainly positive. Yes there were several courses that appeared to be a waste of time (including a Foundations program that was driven by a single ideology - with no opposing views to the contrary) but this was ultimately outweighed by the constructivist and Vygotzkian methodologies, as well as other types of student centered learning, that I was on hand to receive from such dedicated professionals as Maurice Di Giuseppe and Wai Yin Mok (indeed I was very fortunate). Both are a credit to the profession. In fact I have taken the insights that I internalized as a student in this program back to the classroom and I know that it has helped make me a better teacher especially when working with applied and college level students.

On a different but somewhat related issue I make no apologies for my political stance. I am a classical liberal/conservative who believes strongly in the Judeo-Christian principles that define and have been central to the development of western civilization. This does not mean that I oppose the influence of other cultural inputs. To the contrary I welcomesuch enrichment provided that these do not run contrary to the ideals of free speech, democracy, responsible government and the rights if the individual. In fact I believe that Western Civilization has a strong history of accommodation to reasonable diversity.

In retrospect I have been a student of the human condition for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it’s a product of an inquiring mind, but I prefer to think of it as a cultivated sensitivity towards the betterment of our species. Its largely this passion that made me leave engineering to become a teacher. I have not regretted my decision for a single day. As a teacher I have worked in both the private and public boards. At present I teach physics and general science at an urban school here in metro. I have a critical maxim that I live by and that is to treat all my students fairly as human beings regardless of skin colour, ethnicity, income status, sexual orientation etc. I have yet to encounter a problem with such a philosophy. My students seem to appreciate this even handed approach as well.

I believe that education is the bedrock of our civilization. Without it the gains of science, law, art and culture would flounder ….as would the linchpins of democracy and free speech (I repeat these ideals to emphasize their importance). In short education is the rudder steering our shared wisdom into the future. However it is also our one safeguard against the lurking barbarisms that challenge the cumulative gain.

I am critical of social engineering whether it manifests itself in the seemingly more benign forms of white privilege, the race empowerment model, Freire’s critical pedagogy (which I do not believe to be critical at all) or the more malignant legacies of National Socialism, Marxist-Leninism , Maoism, Stalinism, International Socialism, Trotskyism and other so-called ‘progressive’ fascisms. I believe that the turmoil of history caused by these destructive philosophies (particularly in the last century) vindicates my position here.

Sadly I see a commonality that permeates each of these constructs that is echoed in the thinking of several teacher/teacher candidates on this board (and its offspring Talking Politics) - That is an inability to accept the notion of dissent. This is not so much disturbing as it is frightening especially when the monoculture of political belief is suggested as a litmus test to narrow the broad spectrum of candidates entering the profession. Anyone who has faith in liberal education values (as I do) must at the very least shudder when they hear such sentiment being expressed.

Best Wishes till later
Gavin
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