"Back to school" is the time children of all ages dread. Yet it is an exciting period when new friends are made and the days ahead seem to stretch on forever. School years are a time of growth and exploration. Through learning and adventure, we get to know about ourselves and become acquainted with this planet we call home.
As the start of a new school year beckons, it is quite natural that students begin to think about their new teachers. Of course, the rumors among students always find their way into the hallways and everyone gets to know which teachers will be supportive, difficult or maybe even incredibly inspiring.
After visiting many schools as a youth environmental guest speaker, I have come to conclude that a good educator can be an incredible source of inspiration. A teacher who cares deeply about students can fire them to explore and ignite passion for a subject. For example, some students might be inspired to care for the environment or work hard to create positive change.
An inspiring teacher can change the dynamics of an entire school. Indeed, I wouldn't even be writing this article if it were not for that special teacher who ignited the passion in me. A good teacher can be an incredible positive force.
I feel that the ideal teacher will not only follow the curriculum at a pace that allows everyone to grasp what is being taught, but will also investigate and be open to new perspectives. Such a teacher should ideally present students with both sides of a story, especially when the issue at hand concerns important world issues that impact humanity's future. This would allow students to reach their own conclusions based on informed insight.
On the other hand, a teacher who is simply not passionate about students or the subject being taught can have a damaging impact. This can undermine a student's self-esteem and may ultimately completely destroy the student's chance of performing with confidence or developing much passion for anything. I have at some stage encountered this kind of teacher.
Informed insight and open minds are key to education, but there are forces in modern society that seek to create narrow, one-dimensional mindsets and thinking. And this affects us all, including educators. For example, extremely well-funded PR machines are working behind the scenes with agritech/chemical companies and food manufacturers to develop effective techniques, educational material and TV advertising to get kids hooked on harmful food and to misrepresent certain issues.
Today, PR spin proclaims that GM is safe and absolutely necessary for fighting world hunger and feeding a growing population. But when all sides of the story are looked at, it is clear that this is simply not the case. I urge readers to look at this report on the underlying factors that lead to food poverty, malnutrition and hunger and this article on Golden Rice to appreciate that the GM 'quick-fix' is no fix at all for feeding the world.
The PR spin in favor of GM is relentless, however, and is becoming embedded in our education system. I recently came across this article that discusses how Monsanto and powerful agritech companies are cynically trying to build a society of GMO and pesticide devotees, one child at a time, by successfully getting pro-GMO messages into school textbooks and lesson plans.
Unfortunately, many educators fall prey to the PR. Figures who front the PR strategy are invited to give talks as guest speakers or pose as independent science experts, while doing their best to hide their close ties to these corporations (see article). If anything, it highlights how, due to lack of time or interest, some teachers do not carry out adequate research about issues they teach about and merely rely on texts distorted by commercial interests or turn to people with close links to the agritech industry who masquerade as independent figures.
The result is that students are exposed to a one-sided story full of falsehoods and convenient omissions. This amounts to indoctrination not education and effectively deprives children of the right to make informed choices and know both sides of the story. Corporate propaganda in the classroom can result in many young people never realizing how much damage GM or contaminated junk food causes to the environment and their health.
The misrepresentation of the GM issue is taking place on all levels of our education system. It is not just happening in our schools, but also in higher education, as Robert Schooler discovered during his time as a student at Cornell University. He has had the courage to speak out and call to account the links between powerful corporations, individual academics and academic institutions where money and ideology trump any notion of genuine independent science and open-ended knowledge.
If educators did some simple research, they would find a good deal of valuable information about how certain types of food grown a certain way can contribute to feeding a growing global population in a sustainable, healthy way. There are many studies and high-level reports (including many backed by the United Nations) stating that organic farming is more suited for feeding the world.
They would also discover that an inability to produce enough food is not the problem. The problem lies with the inadequate distribution of food, the undermining of productive organic models of agriculture across the world, not having enough money to purchase food and the issue of food waste.
Yet we are presented with fictitious issues (not enough food, low productivity, etc) by corporations that keep pushing for GM and a system of food production which relies on selling more and more chemicals and patented seeds and more and more health-damaging food.
The same corporations that have junk food treats and sugary drinks machines in schools are also helping to promote GM by opposing the labelling of GM foods. Isn't it time educators became acquainted with GM/food issues and spoke out against the infiltration and debasement of our education system?
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