0084: Pardon me for being radical, but the system won’t fix itself
#edreform #revolution #education
I’ve had a few forced days of focus and meditation, an imposed hiatus from writing and working—a root canal and a break in sort of force the mind to silent places lest things really start to fall apart. During my respite I have spent some time reviewing what I have written over the past few months here at Educated to Death and have noticed a shift in my focus. I started writing this to, as I put it, “[maintain] sanity in a system that pushes students through…in little boxes.” I think I have managed to maintain sanity, but beyond that I think I have managed to redefine, for myself, my place in education.
I have become a participant in a conversation that reaches far beyond my classroom, and even education proper. I, with the help of a community, am beginning to better understand the role of education, schooling, and teachers within the constructs of a seemingly corrupt and inequitable system. Education is not the entire system, it is a small portion of a body of systems that seems to do little more than crush people beneath its feet. I am less silent than I was a few months ago. I am more connected. I am more aware of the truth than when I started this process, the truth that we all must participate beyond our day-to-day. I am that if change, revolutionary change, is going to occur, we, the people, must make it happen. We are, I am, more than teachers, we are people. If we sit idly by and let things happen to us and around us, then we are not victims, we are perpetrators of whatever injustice we allow to take place. I must be a conscious participant wherever I am.
As a teacher, I must teach. I must do everything in my power to ensure that they have the tools to think critically, and learn independently. This will undoubtedly come at a cost. Following orders, curriculum, teaching uncritically, is nothing more than neglecting eager minds. And if those minds are resistant because they have been closed due to training, boredom, and the lull of standardized testing, then
I must do what ever I can to wake up. We can no longer train zombies. Who will change the course of human history if not us? My readership is small, but I am not alone, and neither are you. Grow with me. Fight with me. We have to fix this ship before we all go down. If the reformers won’t, and they won’t, then we will.
0067: Testing, the Existential Crisis, and Hope in #Rebellion
#testing #education #revolution
We’ve been back at school for less than a week and students are already sharing their dissent about testing. Of course, they came back from the holidays to benchmark testing. How could we begin the year without knowing where they are and how much we need to move them? These benchmark tests are a fine and expensive resource provided by a testing company to be predictors of success. They help us, the teaching faculty, “target” the specific “needs” of a particular student. These so called needs have nothing to do with true or basic or even academic needs; these needs have been defined by a corporate testing company and the creators of the state curriculum. The needs of our students are reduced to a certain score on a test. Are their needs so arbitrary?
I hate that we’ve all returned to a hornet’s nest of testing. Everyone’s already anxious. The state could take over if we don’t succeed. Jobs are at stake. The principal devoted 15 minutes on the intercom to explaining the importance of this target test and how it would count as a grade. He told teachers to watch for students who were just bubbling answers. They would receive Saturday school. It’s such a shame that we are subjecting human beings to such meaningless stress. The students above all aren’t learning anything of value. Simply stay in line, shut up, and answer the questions the way you were taught to answer them. The teachers have dead eyes because they know deep down their not really teaching, their just trying to, like the students, stay in line, shut up, and train people to answer questions in a certain way. There is no critical thought. We’re all chained to the test. The principals are terrified of losing their jobs, and are overwhelmed with discipline problems. Students don’t want to be tested. They’re bored and weary from years of testing. Many never move beyond basic and have accepted the futility of their situation. They give up with no one to stoke their curiosity.
Each school that has employed me has faced the same existential crisis. There is no hope in being trained for a test. There is no learning, only training. Learning requires curiosity, but curiosity is killed off in the early grades. And if there is no learning, then there is no teaching. Year by year we become more numb to our positions as teachers. We have been placed in little boxes just like our students. So where is the hope? Where is the light? Is it students’ rebellion? Is it in teachers when they choose to chase rabbits and follow students down paths of curiosity? Sure. Sure, hope is there. It’s in rebellion. It’s in the commitment to step out of line and get your job done so you can stick around, but really to redefine your job so you are really teaching. There is spring and life in rebellion. There is joy in revolution.
0031: If you can’t reach ‘em, drug ‘em. I guess.
I just finished carefully filling out a form that had the insignias of the America Academy of Pediatrics (dedicated to the health of all children), the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, and McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals— two health organizations and one corporation, good benevolent companies with children’s interest at heart. The goal, I’m assuming is to issue drugs to tame this rambunctious young black child. He is a handful, but drugging a child just doesn’t seem helpful. Perhaps, a behavioral intervention or some adjustment to the way he is being taught. I’ve made a few adjustments and seen improvements. He’s a genius of a kid, just not really interested in complying. And whose to say he should comply? He disrupts during whole group activity. He has energy. When he writes it’s clever and amazing. His writing is a little off color, a little blue. He has an adult sense of humor. But the syntax is amazing. He struggles in all of his classes, but should we drug him? Or, are we just too cheap and lazy to do anything else? I am not without blame. I haven’t learned to manage his behavior. I have neither forced him into compliance or broken his spirit. He is one of the few and proud who is refusing to be schooled. I admire his wit and commitment to doing what he sees fit. He questions absolutely everything. And yes he becomes inappropriate. But, he deserves a proper education. He is not “driven by a motor”. He is driven by his mind and his choices. They do not align with the state curriculum, but they are his.
He struggles in most of his classes. Maybe he struggles against them. I’ve encountered kids like this over the course of my career. Sometimes they make it; sometimes they’re made into victims. I hope my non-referral keeps him corporate-drug-free. I hope the system that serves him adjusts to him. Unfortunately, systems wants perfect sprockets that fit on their machines. If you can’t reach ‘em drug ‘em. I guess.
0021: Why Teach? Why not Rebel?
Why teach, when it seems like a constant battle? It is a constant battle for the teachers I’ve known, at least. And maybe it’s the for we teachers who teach in schools that serve at-risk kids, kids who have never quite received all of the equitable education to which they’re entitled. These teachers are under constant scrutiny from administrators who are looking down the barrel of their own job related problems, but the lack of empathy that often accompanies these situations makes the already struggling veteran teacher more vulnerable. This struggle to stay afloat seems to have come about through the corporate testocracy that now runs public schooling. It’s forcing a critical eye at teachers, which is a good thing at times, but it’s equally stripping teachers of the choice to teach. No longer are they showing up to work to motivate struggling learners to explore ideas and texts and mathematical theorems. Now they come as prison guards to enforce the dissemination of facts from ruling class textbooks so their once beloved students can perform on some corporate test. This forced testocracy breeds contempt for the teacher by the student, and certainly a reciprocal disdain from many teachers. In every level of power now their is contempt in public education. Each rung on the bureaucratic latter, from superintendent down to the lowliest of student there is an utterance on their lips: “That idiot wants me to do what?”.
This contempt is natural from students, teachers, and so forth. I dare say it’s a good thing. Contempt can serve as a catalyst for rebellion. Student “misbehavior” is certainly a powerful reaction to the boxes and cages they’ve been placed within. Equally, teacher eye rolling and failure to get around to certain things is the same. Students tend to be a bit more vocal in their rebellion. Rebellion is one of our greatest human abilities. True freedom has historically been maintained through constant rebellion against those who enforce constrictive regulations. Teachers, to not rebel, to not speak out, leaves you powerless and in direct violation of your own goal to teach. To really teach is to help steer individuals toward their truest and fullest humanity. Those moments of realization in students’ eyes make the job and all it’s problems worth it.
How can teachers rebel in this surveillance society that is called public education? First, we must all fight to keep our sanity. That means putting your mental health first and being honest with ourselves. We must be authentic human beings, fallible, and caring if we are going to ever even begin reaching the calloused rabble that is our students. Our students have been disheartened and they certainly are untrusting—with good reason too. Second, we must make sure to teach and nurture those little sparks of curiosity we see in our students. That means chasing rabbits, getting off topic, Hell, maybe even cutting up/cracking jokes and the like from time to time. We have to be human, and approachable. Next, we must cue our students into what is actually happening. Kids are being separated by test scores. There is no benevolent motivation behind standardized testing, maybe somewhere, but it has been lost in the cloud of greed that surrounds them. And, it may seem counterintuitive to let students know your disdain for the test, but they already know you hate it. Why not become allies? You are, by teaching the students how to beat the test, teaching them that our current is a testocracy, and it must be manipulated like any other system. Those who hold the power are those who can survive and thrive within and around unfair and ridiculous systems. We must help those in our care transcend the tomfoolery that is at hand. We must do the same.