Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fundamentalist vs Educator

Fundamentalism is a way of looking at the world in a severely simplified form. Ordinarily we apply it (these days) to religious fanaticism, but that kind of thinking can exhibit itself anywhere. Take patriotism, probably one of the most pervasive and deadly forms of the disease. In Belleisle, New Brunswick, principal Erik Millett was ordered by the superintendent to reinstate the daily playing of O Canada after numerous complaints, threats and vitriol had been hurled at everyone who was seen to have authority in the situation.

Fundamentalism could be defined as a form of deductive reasoning, “the inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle (Oxford). In a patriot, the applicable law or principle in the Belleisle case might look like this: “People show their loyalty to their country by singing the national anthem; ergo, the non-singing of the national anthem obviously proves disloyalty.” Poor Erik Millett; the rage against his perceived disloyalty resulted in one parent coming to his office and threatening him with physical harm, or worse.

Deductive reasoners don’t hold with a lot of dialogue, and certainly not with the consideration of exceptions to the rule. If they did, then Erik Millett would have found himself in a much better situation; as it was, what he got was: “Don’t bother us with the explanations. You used to have O Canada every morning. You’ve reduced it to once a month in assemblies. That proves you’re un-Canadian. There’s nothing more to talk about. I should beat you to a pulp!”

Erik Millett was responding to a sound educational principle. Segregating young students from their peer activities should be avoided because it can lead to stigmatization and damage to self image. In his school were a few children whose parents believe that patriotic symbols are hypocritical in a people whose allegiance is—first and foremost—to God, not to a state. Millett didn’t want to make these kids stand in the hallway with their hands over their ears while the anthem was being played and everyone else stood at attention.

Millett’s actions were based on compassion for his students, not disloyalty to Canada. He saw some of the children caught between their parents’ (deductive) logic and the public’s (deductive) reasoning, and he sought to reach a compromise in the interest of the children. He was reasoning inductively: Logic characterized by the inference of general laws from particular instances (Oxford). Millett was showing the characteristics of a good educator; what he failed to do was to appease the fundamentalists before making the change. They’ll kill you for that. Millett may never go back to his job.

That’s the problem with deduction. It invariably sees compromise as a bad thing, a way down a slippery slope. In religion as well as in patriotism, liberal, inductive reasoners are at a disadvantage; they don’t have a Bible verse or a flag to nail their conclusions to because they are thinking from the notion that the principle is derived from the events, not the other way ‘round. What’s more, threats, vitriol and worse are typically fundamentalist tools. They have this built-in urge to clean up the environment, particularly of the deviance they see in their opposites.

Too bad. We probably lost a great teacher. I don’t know how the superintendent for the region can live with herself; she acquiesced to the fundamentalists when leadership was called for.

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