Governor Huckabee and Teaching Toward Free Inquiry

The core lessons of a liberating education—an education for citizenship, participation, engagement, and democracy—are these: each human being is unique and of incalculable value, and we each have a mind of our own; we are all works-in-progress swimming through a dynamic history in-the-making toward an uncertain and indeterminate shore; we can choose to join with others and act on our own judgments and in our own freedom; human enlightenment and liberation are always the result of thoughtful action.

On the side of a liberating and humanizing education is a pedagogy of questioning, an approach that opens rather than closes spaces of curiosity, perspective, dialogue, and imagination. It demands something upending from students and teachers alike: repudiate your place in the pecking order, it urges, remove that distorted, congenial mask of compliance. You must change.

Occasions for teaching that tries to get to the root of things, teaching that is more than a kind of trivial pursuit of the obvious, happen all the time. Practically anything, from the lofty to the mundane, can be the object of serious inquiry and provide, then, opportunities for teachers and students to enact a curriculum of democracy and freedom. I recently read, for example, that in Arkansas—where Governor Huckabee is the poster boy of dramatic weight loss and a leader in the national campaign against obesity—school report cards must now include each child’s B.M.I., his or her body mass index. Obesity is indeed a massive public health problem and its dimensions have been growing for decades: obesity is the number one killer-disease in the US, and today’s children will be the first generation in history to fail to outlive their parent generation, chiefly because of fat. But rather than dully accept that the B.M.I. notation will make students and parents more aware of the scale of the thing, we might hold the initiative up to scrutiny and interrogation.

In the interest of historicizing everything, we might ask:

· What is the history of obesity as a health problem in the US and elsewhere? Is it considered an “eating disorder,” and if so how is it like/unlike other “eating disorders”? What part of the problem is genetic predisposition, what part habit or education, what part access?

· What is the history of engaging schools to solve broader social problems? What’s been the result of mandating alcohol and drug awareness programs, for example, or suicide prevention and abstinence programs?

In the spirit of politicizing everything, we can go further:

· Who decided to mandate the inclusion of the B.M.I.? Was there broad participation and dialogue by parents, students, teachers, or the broader community?

· What industries suffer because of obesity, and which ones benefit? What’s the relationship of fat and sugar to the problem? What public and economic policies impact the sugar industry, for example?

· Is obesity correlated in any way to income, class, race, or gender? How?

· Are exercise facilities available equally across communities regardless of income or property values? Are parks equitably distributed?

· Are fruits and vegetables accessible equitably regardless of community income?

In the spirit of active inquiry close to home, again more questions:

· How much time is allotted to recess and physical education?

· Are all students equally encouraged or even required to participate in sports and games?

· What is a typical school lunch?

· Does the school sell soda, candy, or fatty foods from vending machines? Does it sell fast food or junk food? Fruits and vegetables? Why?

· Do clubs or teams sell candy or cookies to raise funds?

While many of us long for teaching as something transcendent and powerful, we find ourselves too-often locked in situations that reduce teaching to a kind of glorified clerking, passing along a curriculum of received wisdom and predigested bits of information. A fundamental choice and challenge for teachers, then, is this: to acquiesce to the machinery of control, or to take a stand with our students in a search for meaning and a journey of transformation. To teach obedience and conformity, or to teach its polar opposite: initiative and imagination, curiosity and questioning, the capacity to name the world, to identify the obstacles to your full humanity, and the courage to act upon whatever the known demands. A pedagogy of questioning can begin to open those doors.

16 Responses to Governor Huckabee and Teaching Toward Free Inquiry

  1. John Janski says:

    Hey Billy, get a real job.

  2. SteveIL says:

    Ayers, you’re nuts. You seem to forget that you’re own “questioning” led to you becoming a Communist terrorist, yearning to kill your fellow Americans, and all without apologizing for it. That wasn’t a failure of the education system, but your own lack of character as a rich, spoiled brat.

    As far as what you say here, how about teaching kids the basics first, and how to study? Children need to start from the beginning that 1 + 1 = 2, not starting them with the theorem that proves why it is so.

    Go back to your hole and wallow in it.

  3. scott says:

    “Well stated, Steve. Don’t ya just love the red star at the top of the page. Funny, no American flag anywhere to be found on Billy’s site.”

    An American flag?I bet you and Steve wear your stupid flag lapel pins everywhere in support of that disgusting,immoral act of aggression in Iraq that has slaughtered so many innocent people. Yet you come here and wallow in the most hypocritical,sanctimonious garbage imaginable.”Billy” should kick your useless butt off of his site for good,but he’s obviously much more gracious than you will ever be.

  4. tom says:

    Old bill ayers should be with tim mcveigh sniffing the roots not the roses!

  5. Sam Pierce says:


    You teach urban high school students to hate their country and bomb innocent people? Do you actually show them how to make bombs or is it all theory?

    You, dear lady, are yet one more example of why I thank God my wife homeschools our children!

  6. Michael says:

    In response to Sam, I would not worry about Bill teaching bomb making. Hopefully his pawns perform the task such as to replicate Greenwich Village townhouse incident. Which Bill has no remorse for them or the Judge and his family that they attempted to kill.

    What I don’t understand is why Mr. Ayers wants us to question exactly what he wants. A large government to control our every actions. He pushes for a Socialized government to control our healthcare, education, and trade. Isn’t this what the grading scale that Huckabee is proposing doing. I am truly against the BMI being part of the report card, but I am also against government interfering with any part of our Liberties.

  7. Elmo says:

    I know this is frightfully on topic but I’m going to ignore the custom of making ad hominem attacks anyway.

    The function of any school is not to educate children but to assist parents in helping their children to learn how to function in their society. I know that most parents think that all they have to do is to check the child into kindergarten and the school will take care of the rest. I also know that if you want to be an active participant in your child’s learning process the school can’t stop you.

    There are a few things that need to be done first. If students can’t read it’s going to make it very difficult for them to learn anything on their own. But once that is done, the major task is to provide them with the opportunity to learn on their own and assistance in so doing. If the parent hasn’t figured out that their kid is obese, putting the BMI on a report card won’t make any difference.

  8. ken says:

    These people should not be trusted to walk dogs, much less indoctrinate children.

  9. stian brinch says:

    Scott, you posted an almost identical response to one of my posts on this site. You even used the same descriptive words such as “hypocritical,” “sanctimonious” to describe me and “innocent” to describe Iraqi civilians. Plus you begin your post with a statement that irks you with quotes around it. Since you don’t seem to like Americans quite as much as you like Iraqis, maybe you and Bill should move to Iraq and give those nice Iraqi civilians a helping hand.

  10. Jay says:

    Hey Prof. Bill,

    Tell us about the rich upper middle class background in Chicago from where you hail from that led you to become a left wing nut and detonate bombs within your own country. Still no apologies?

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