Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I did something cowardly yesterday. I am full of rationalizations but it was still cowardly and against everything I say I stand for.

I spoke about wetlands before about 60 6th graders yesterday afternoon. After I gave my basic Wetlands Intro talk, we had Q & A. They were asking good questions, several wanting to know what different kinds of wetlands there are and what each kind is "good for." I myself opened up the subject of vernal pools and started to talk about how one of their chief benefits in nature is protecting tiny populations of small amphibians and invertebrates from larger predators - and I started to say "provide habitat for isolated populations that through thousands of generations will evolve into even more different species" - when the words stuck in my throat. I wonder if I looked panicky for a second. I remember my gaze zooming around the room, taking in the childrens' faces, the teacher's and the principal's and the other guest speaker's - "What if one of the kids objects to the mention of evolution?" raced through my mind. "No-win: argue with a 6th grader? Parents! Irate principal? Professional reprimand?" All in an instant,- and I choked. I went on to another topic.

I have a bagful of rationalizations: I was only there for 1/2 hour, why introduce controversy and a complex subject way over the kids' heads? It's not my job to teach evolution, I was there to talk about wetlands (yeah, that sounds lame even to me). What right do I have to stir up trouble and leave the school staff to deal with it? (another lame one)

This forces me to re-evaluate my self-image as well as what my role is when I go to these guest shots. It is also a wake-up call; now I realize what kind of temptation towards self-censorship teachers must experience on a daily basis. I'm sure the support level of the principal is absolutely critical on a school-by-school basis, and of course that's determined largely by how much support the principal gets from the school board. And the population from which school boards are drawn seems to be racing for the Dark Ages as fast as it can go.

My own cowardice shakes me deeply. We're in worse trouble than I thought. What can I do? I can think hard about what I did yesterday and make concrete plans to prevent it from happening again. I can post it on my blog for all the world to see, to ventilate the struggle.

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