Prison, Greenhouse, or Waterboarding

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Common Core State Standards, Grade 8, Reading Standards for Informational Text

I’m working on teaching this and other standards to my junior highers. Reading and thinking critically is imperative, yet yesterday I had an interesting “uncritical” reading moment.

I read a blog post by John Spencer called “What if School Isn’t a Prison?” He said, instead of comparing his schooling to a prison, as he usually does, he was challenged to use the metaphor of a greenhouse — some crap was inevitable, but there was also sunlight and fresh water. Definitely a rosier metaphor than prison for what school was for many of us and is for today’s students.

As I read it, I thought, Hmmm…maybe…that’s nice.

Then I read the first comment at the bottom by Tom Panarese:

What is this? I can’t retweet this! I can’t quote this in my efforts to show the other teacher bloggers that they need to risk their livelihoods and families in order to rebel against a 19th Century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children into an early grave! Terrible. F.

Whoa! It took me back. It was like a slap up-side my head. Read! Denise, it yelled to me. Critical reading alert: Evaluate the argument…assess the reasoning…relevant and sufficient evidence?

I had to stop and re-read it. He’s right. Instead of taking the blog post at face value, why didn’t I read it critically and thoughtfully the first time? Why didn’t I react like I really felt? I’m not sure why, because I really resonated more with what Tom said. I want to “risk my livelihood…in order to rebel against a 19th century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children.”

His challenge was good for at least two people. John, the author of the original post, responded back with another comment. He began rethinking and questioning his own post. Tom got him to think critically, and he appreciated the conversation.

I am another person who was helped by Tom’s comment. His challenging response changed me. It made me a better reader. It changed my attitude, at least for a day. Yesterday I felt a little snarkier than usual. I was a little more willing to risk being wrong while doing right by my students.

The next time I hope right away I can read more critically. I don’t want to be afraid to open up a conversation if something troubles me on such an important topic as educational reform.

I also hope others will speak up when I say something that begs a challenge.

For the sake of the students, perhaps, we must.