Teaching with Integrity!

I’m re-reading an ancient book–”Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman”. Well, its 27 years old and some readers weren’t born yet. None of my grandchildren, in fact. But I didn’t remember it’s wonderful final chapter–on what science vs junk science is. All the data we collect these days re school deform is clearly of the latter variety. But I’m reminded that so is a lot of what my side promotes too. Not everything good, I used to say, has to be labeled science. But Richard Feynman is making a different point and it fits well with our “five habits of mind”–for all subjects, including those we shouldn’t have to defend as science. He even specifically mentions–in 1985–what passes for science in the field of Education. “They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect…But it doesn’t work.” What’s missing he calls “scientific integrity.” (Maybe just plain integrity?) “In summary,” he says, “the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others judge the value of your contribution. ” “Not to fool yourself” is the first essential says Feynman. While some subjects aren’t susceptible to scientific analysis, all subject matter shares that with science: don’t fool ourselves. “The long history of learning how to not fool ourselves…is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I knew of. We just hope your’ve caught on by osmosis.” I’ve ignored this first principle at times. “You must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” But he goes even further–we should not fool others either.

Feynman ends the book with something more important in 2012 than it was in 1987: “I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain this kind of integrity…(where) you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position…or so on, to lose your integrity.”

I echo Feynman’s final words; “May you have that freedom” as you return to school in 2012.

2 Responses

  1. Deb…it’s a classic and ought to be so read…thanks for the reminder!

  2. I don’t have the freedom to maintain my integrity this year, as I’ve had in the past. That is painful to me, drives me to tears, but I have found ways to preserve it. When I talked about Toni Morrison’s Nobel lecture today, the one in which she says that language may be the measure of our lives, my students were listening intently. We all know about language–when it’s used to deceive (for my side or others) and when it’s used to exalt and challenge us. It’s important to frame our work around the theme of integrity. And to fight for it in our classrooms.

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