Part III of our five-year anniversary series features Subject Expert Teacher Dr. Parson, who has taught high school history for the five years BASIS Independent Silicon Valley has been open. Remember to read part I and part II of our celebration series as well!
Our Head of School Mr. Walker took a few moments to share some thoughts about the ever-popular Dr. Parson.
Dr. Parson has been the AP U.S. Government teacher at this campus since our founding year. He has, in his time here, taught other classes however, he is universally recognized as the "AP Gov Guy". What an interesting time it has been to study government these past five years! Dr. Parson has provided the inspiration and guidance for many in-depth political conversations that have, I'm sure, spilled over from the classroom to the dinner table. Through his expert instruction Dr. Parson has produced students that are not only able to articulate their own personal view points, but are also respectful and inclusive of others.
Each day, Dr. Parson brings history and law to life for his students. We wanted to get the nitty gritty on his experience, perspective, and day-to-day over the last five years:
1. After five years of incredible work at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley, what are you reflecting on this year? What bring you back to BISV each year?
Without a doubt, it is the students who keep me coming back. Their desire to learn and understand the material creates a classroom that I want to be a part of, it makes going to work every day very easy.
This academic year, the College Board redesigned the AP® United States Government and Politics curriculum. As a result, I spent some of my summer thinking about how I wanted to improve the course and I felt the redesign allowed me to do that. I scraped my old material and started from scratch because I wanted to give students an opportunity to use their voice more and decrease mine in the classroom.
It’s a work in progress, but I think things are going quite well. I have reduced lecture and increased classroom discussions, including a full mock Congress project that began in December and ended in April, which was a lot of fun.
2. You have always taught high school ages students at BISV; what do you enjoy most about this age group?
I love the combination of maturity and confidence sprinkled with a bit of ignorance. Many of them come with a belief of knowing everything (a characteristic shared among many high school students). Yet they are also very curious about the world around them; there‘s a degree of curiosity and honesty around them that isn’t matched with any other age group. It’s pretty awesome to be a part of, because as they enter grade 9 with all these questions they leave as seniors who are more defined, and who have had many of these questions answered, through both lessons and their own pursuit.
3. Most of your time in the classroom is focused on AP United States Government, a subject often wrought with differing and passionate opinions. Has a student ever been successful in persuading you to adjust your viewpoint on a particular topic?
No (haha), I’m too old and stubborn. But I have heard good arguments to support opposing points of view and I love that part of it. In order to encourage classroom discussion and the free sharing of ideas I do not share my political ideology with the class, and often play the role of Devil’s advocate arguing both liberal and conservative viewpoints. I want students to think about issues from both viewpoints and then decide which they agree, instead of echoing my own. However, the current political climate is making this more and more challenging.
4.How does your Juris Doctor and experience as a lawyer inform the lens through which you teach government and history courses?
I think my J.D. makes this course a natural fit for me. The course relies heavily on students having an understanding of landmark cases and also how complicated political ideas work in the real world. I think my legal background gives me a deeper understanding of these cases so I can illustrate not just what the cases mean but how they are used. For example, it’s not just what cases like Gibbons v. Ogden and U.S. v. Lopez stand for, but how they are applied today and how they shape new issues like sanctuary cities or the legalization of marijuana. In addition, in my classroom I require students to give well-reasoned arguments; I tell students, “no lazy answers.”
If they are going to share their opinion, something they are required and encouraged to do, it needs to be supported with facts and a clear analysis. This manner of speaking and writing in class is something we work on throughout the school year.
5. The class of 2018 was our first graduating class to join us in grade 9 and work their way through our high school curriculum. What struck you the most about their transformation, as well as subsequent classes, over those three years?
I had the entire graduating class of 2018 as freshman and got to teach 16 of them as seniors in a capstone class. Each one of them improved dramatically in areas of critical thinking, problem solving, and persuasive writing. These are students who became comfortable with research and writing assignments that most students would not be required to do until college—they become early scholars, and, as a result, they stand out.
6. You received a well-deserved standing ovation while addressing the class of 2018 at their commencement ceremony, which seemed to be an emotional moment for you. What have you learned from this most recent graduating class?
Well, it was truly humbling to be picked by that graduating class to deliver an address at their commencement, when I hadn’t taught most of them since they were freshman. It was special for me, it being my first high school class, and a year where I was trying to find myself as a teacher and they were trying to find themselves, not just as high school students, but students at a brand new school. Both of us decided to take a risk together coming to a new school, I think the decision they made to come to BISV was brave, and one I hope they feel paid off.
I will always have a special kinship with the graduating class of 2018 as they were my first group of students and gave me confidence to believe I could find success as a high school teacher. So yes, the honor of being selected to give an address for them and their support throughout was a touching moment for me and will be one I won’t soon forget.
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