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The North American House Hippo

It’s fairly common for teachers to teach students to be critical assessors of Internet resources. After all, most of us recognize how ridiculously easy it is to create a very professional -yet fake- looking website. The North American House Hippo documentary should be proof enough how authentic something entirely fabricated can be portrayed.

But how often are students actively encouraged to question the teacher?

Or their parents?

 I proudly hang a sign in my classroom that reads:

 I refer to this poster all the time.

Think for yourself, your teacher might be wrong.

Throughout the year, I encourage my students to alter the poster’s intended target. During our World War II unit, we swap teacher for government. During our discussions on rewards, punishment and other forms of manipulation, we swap teacher for bully, friend and even parent.

 It’s very important that students know that questioning their teacher is not only tolerated, but that they are expected to do so.

I want them to question authority.

 Before you leap at me through your keyboard, let me be clear that students need to be taught how to be critical of others while remaining respectful and civil. When I explain all this to my students, I typically say that I want them to think for themselves. This does not automatically mean that they should not listen to their teachers or parents, but that they need to listen first and then decide if what is being said makes sense.

 I am not proposing students go running around willy-nilly, refusing to listen to anyone. Rather, I am actually advocating for quite the opposite. I want them to be incredibly mindful while listening.

 I want them to actively listen to others and reflect upon what is being said.

 I want them to ask questions.

 I want them to think.


About joebower

I believe students should experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information.


6 thoughts on “The North American House Hippo

  1. No Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Come on!

    The sign sounds like a fantastic prompt for critical thinking. Do students ever suggest the keyword swaps? It’d be cool to write a list poem –

    Think for yourself; your teacher may be wrong.
    Speak for yourself; your friend may want something you do not.

    Joe, I value the ways you push educators and students tremendously. I’m really curious about how you authentically celebrate students’ achievements, too. When class members help one another get the big idea and gel into a community of critical inquiry, how do you recognize and acknowledge that milestone? What are some other conceptual and project-based benchmarks in learning-without-grades that you celebrate?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 28, 2010, 6:14 am
  2. Joe, this post about helping kids question authority really resonates with me, and you expressed it in ways I thought about but couldn’t find the words. I love your poster. You describe helping students be mindful in very clear ways that does require respect and yet builds their ability to think for themselves. Do you find that your students have issues in the next year’s classrooms, or does the respect you teach them carry over in ways that they can be change catalysts effectively?

    I so appreciate this post–thanks for sharing.


    Posted by Paula White | April 28, 2010, 6:17 am
  3. Joe, your poster and its application is a perfect example of how to enact critical pedagogy in the classroom! Thank you sharing it.


    Posted by Adam Burk | April 28, 2010, 6:22 am
  4. Joe, As someone who as a kid never doubted the teacher was wrong, and now that sense often comes up to bite me in the ass when I am put in the POSITION OF TEACHER (shit, man, I KNOW I am wrong), the whole construction of appropriate adult/student authority in schools always seemed really about advantaging adults, not helping kids learn. I love your poster, and the part that’s hard for me is that:

    a) you should even need to say it
    b) that it would be considered controversial.

    I’m not that worried about kids dissing me–questioning my authority. I’m more worried about them not. Do your colleagues agree?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 28, 2010, 9:17 am
  5. Thanks, Joe! I always love hearing about what’s in your classroom and that poster is awesome. I agree with Kirsten that it’s incredible teachers can actually get flak for encouraging students to think. There are “educators” that insist on giving students one idea, telling them to just accept it, and then shielding them from any competing ideas. Is that really education? I’m not sure who said it, but there’s a quote I quite like that goes something like this: “The test of an educated person is the ability to hold two competing ideas in one’s mind and retain the ability to function.” I even think it’s important to expose my students to ideas I disagree with – usually not even telling them which school of thought I’m in.

    Also worth mentioning – a friend of mine had an incredible government teacher in high school that she still talks about. All the students were forced to think for themselves, as to this day, she still has no idea what that teacher’s political leanings are.

    Posted by Chris Fritz | April 28, 2010, 5:38 pm


  1. Pingback: The Hard Path, Part 2 « Cooperative Catalyst - April 29, 2010

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