Lance Scranton: Do your beliefs have traction?
November 27, 2017
What do you believe? It's a common question students are asked during their senior year of high school. The question is designed to help students reflect on the past 11 years of their education. The teacher's role is to steer the young minds away from clichés, and the exercise is fraught with one-liners and overly simplified quotes that students have heard on television or seen in videos. The problem with overly simplistic descriptions of what students say they believe is that it communicates an important truth in a distorted way. Our job, as teachers, is to urge the students to qualify their belief statements, which will lead to an important understanding.
Most kids, and adults, alike, would generally say they believe that judging other people is wrong. Seems like a sound statement until I explain that the popular cliché is an example of a self-defeating statement. In a country that celebrates freedom, judging others is an important part of living in a republic, and that appropriate judgment challenges thoughts and actions that are incompatible with the freedoms we enjoy.
Of course, if students have no idea what freedom means in a republic, then the exercise gets a little more complicated and a lot more challenging for the teacher. Expressing beliefs in more useful terms is important, because clichés amount to as much usefulness as tires without any grip during the winter months. Functionally, the tires work just fine but afford little traction on ice and snow.
Many students also believe that spreading lies about others is wrong but that spreading the truth about someone is OK. Sure sounds good until I ask them if everything they had ever done were made public, would they be OK with it? Honesty is the best policy in speech and conduct, so long as we all understand that, were embarrassing aspects of our life made widely known (however true), they would likely affect our lives negatively.
Excusing bad behavior is not the issue, however, speech designed to expose another's mistakes or shortcomings (wrapped in a banner of honesty) might lead to consequences none of us would favor. Maybe a qualification around the belief in honesty is an important consideration, especially with regard to speech.
Judgment of actions and honesty in speech and behavior are established beliefs that communicate an important truth about our society. Based on the news coming out of Washington D.C. and Hollywood these past few months, it might be a good reminder for some of the adults in our country to enroll in a refresher course in high school English or at least think about what they believe a little more seriously. Beliefs that gain traction tend to be based on a strong foundation and help us keep a grip on reality in a morally slippery culture.
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Lance Scranton is a teacher and coach at Moffat County High School.