Two facts to know for this story: First, we're hugely pedantic sticklers for accuracy in this family. Seriously, our family has gotten into three-way blowouts over book titles, biology facts, or X-Men character arcs. Facts REALLY matter in this household (even fictional ones). Second, my son goes to public school.
If you think you know where I'm going with this, you might be wrong. I'm a product of public school, and have a bunch of relatives who work or worked in public school. It's usually pretty great. My son's teachers, for the most part, have been wonderful. Even when they aren't great, they're not evil, and I'd rather he learn to deal with difficult people now, when it's just the mean P.E. coach, than for the very first time when he's working for a difficult boss.
No, our district is fantastic, and his experience has been overwhelmingly good. But public anything is filled (even more than private/niche versions) with lots of people with different ideas, with different backgrounds, and different access to information up to this point. This is awesome, 99 percent of the time. It exposes my son to things I'd never know to teach or show him, and I wouldn't want to regulate the information he learns even if I could. Still, even highly qualified teachers, in this diverse setting, might think silly things. These things might make their way into lessons.
My son is a master at weeding out, questioning, and decimating silly assumptions. I am so freaking proud of his talent in this area, you wouldn't even believe it. I can almost see how nutty parents get off on living vicariously through their kids. It's like I get to be an insufferable know-it-all, all over again, as I listen to his stories. It's awesome.
The thing is, he doesn't have an equally high talent for diplomacy.
This has played out around some highly charged topics. However, I am (I hope) slightly more diplomatic than my 9-year-old, so I'll choose a recent example that's not tied to any treasured beliefs. My son learned the other day, in health class, that our blood is actually blue until oxygen hits it. This didn't sound correct to him (Why does shining a strong light through your hand look red? What about blood tests?), so he asked me about it. I told him no, I'm pretty sure that's not quite right. More importantly, I told him the trick is to look up this information, to know where to look, and to know how to recognize a good source. We looked it up together, confirmed that unoxygenated blood, while maybe a darker maroon, is still red. When it carries oxygen it's a brighter red.
He asked all kinds of follow-up questions, not all of which I could answer, and we discussed it for a while longer. He wanted to know how the health teacher got it wrong; and we talked about how even educated, highly intelligent people can get caught up in incorrect assumptions. How there's probably something right now that we both think that's wrong. How it's important to keep an open mind, but not be gullible and fall for every "fact" you hear or read.
Lastly, we discussed how he might broach this topic with his teacher or the other students. (He really, really wanted to broach this topic with his teacher or the other students. He always does.) We talked about how being correct isn't the end of the story. I told him how you mention the topic, and your disagreement, can make all the difference. That it shouldn't be about correcting someone so much as discussing the topic. We role played it. I was the teacher. He decided to tell teacher-me that he was interested in the circulatory system, so he'd gone home and looked at such-and-such reference materials with his mom, and from that, it seems like her fact (veins look blue) is sort of true, but there's more to it (blood isn't, and it doesn't change dramatically when it "hits the air"), and here are those facts. I thought it was pretty good. I was hopeful.
After his next health class, he mentioned the blood thing again.
"Oh! Did you ever ask your teacher about the blue blood fact?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah! We had a sub, but I told the class anyway. One of the other kids said 'Nuh-uh! She TOLD us it was blue.' So I said, 'Well, she's totally wrong! She got her information wrong and that's what happens if you're gullible and fall for hoaxes and stuff!' And I said it's like lying to keep teaching it if we can all find out that it's not true! So NOW I guess they'll all have to go home and look it up for themselves. Haha!"
I'm really sorry, Mrs. Health Teacher.