Thursday, October 4, 2012

0190: Collaborate, but collaborate better than thy neighbor(?).

#education #occupyedu #SOSchat #deleuze #revolution

We’ve had several meetings this year that have all had a similar message: “create a competitive environment in your classroom to motive your students”. We are told that they respond well to competition. They should always strive to do better than their neighbor. We are also expected to tell them that they are working toward a reward, even though we can’t decide what the reward will be, or even if it will exist at all. And, at the same meetings we are told to put students in groups to “work together”.

I understand what “we’re” shooting for at my school. We’re in trouble with the state—deep. Our goal, rather, our prescribed goal is to do anything we can to get the state of our asses. Administration is fumbling for any answer—little bits of 3rd hand research they’ve picked up at workshops and mashed together with whatever dung the consultants have passed down. Encouraging heavy competition between individuals and then asking for group collaboration is a bit contradictory. I understand this is an oversight. They’re worried. We fear for our jobs.

The collaboration side of this equation gets swept to the side fairly quickly unfortunately. It’s the unfed dog in the fight. Collaboration does not come naturally among my colleagues. We’ve been compared and divided by test scores, academic subject areas, grade levels, and meetings involve listening to one person ramble on about how we need to work together, but we never get the chance. So teaching collaboration is quite foreign for many—impossible for others. And, it cannot be ignored that the real goal for the higher-ups is to get the scores up to keep jobs and what-not, and I’m sure somewhere the really-higher-ups just want to keep everyone divided and on the never ending challenge of always outdoing thy neighbor (I’m sure this statement is just a mad raving of a cynical fool).

So what are we to do? What am I to do if I find encouraging brutal competition among my students unethical, cruel, counterproductive, and unfortunate? I’ve been reprimanded for not putting the sticker charts on the wall for my students to chart their progress against their neighbor. My learners happen to be working with each other—motivated as a group for the sake of the group and the learning.

Certainly, humanity first.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

0189: Highway Robbers, Test Evaluators, and then the Kids

#education #SOSchat #teaching #fascism #rebellion

Teachers are having “Lesson Plan Counseling” sessions with administration to ensure that lesson plans meet the expectations of the evaluators. There seems to be less interest in the quality of the lesson than the structure of the lesson plan. Time is being spent rewriting plans that are not formatted correctly, rather than devoting time to gathering materials and really making sure lessons are accessible. Teaching in this district, we are not alone, is becoming a juggling act in a dog and pony show.

We have more meetings than usual. They’re all attended by the nicely dressed silent evaluators who sit and watch our principal utter something he barely understands which makes it even more difficult to understand. It’s like he’s talking with a gun in his back. It always takes away from the puppet show when you can see the puppet master.

This profession is feeling more and more eerie. There’s so much we do that has little to nothing to do with the well being of our students. Rather than teaching and planning so we can improve the quality of life for an individual or a community, we are jumping through hoops to meet the expectation of some silent goon who works for who-the-hell-knows.

We had a near 40% turnover in faculty last year. They left by choice. That kind of turnover isn’t great for kids in transition or communities. I expect the turnover will be the same.

I want a revolution. Schools should aid in enlightenment and liberation, not suppression and imprisonment of minds.

Friday, June 1, 2012

0172: The Sullied Good We Do: Teachers as Cogs in the Machine

By the very nature of our position as teachers we have the ability to do many wonderful things. We equally have the power to do great harm, with or without intention. Our system of compulsory education is at the very least imposing, beyond that it serves to colonialize and massify every soul that passes through its machinery.

These statements and ideas are bothersome as they serve to split me, the teacher and human, in half. They indict me of some unconscious atrocity committed at whim my own hands. Further, by making such statements I run the risk of alienating myself from anyone who finds them as offensive as I do, and guarantee that I will be misunderstood on some level. But, I believe the duality of our profession holds truths well worth bearing witness to. To not notice the dual nature of what we do would be negligent. By understanding it better and our role within it, we are better able to disrupt what needs disrupting and bring forth our more valuable attributes.

My intent is not to expose some conspiracy by some powerful few; rather, I want to understand my role in a system that functions beyond the intention of the pieces that work within it. It’s a system that is both benevolent and useful, and equally harmful. There are aspects that enlighten and liberate, and suppress and colonialize. Unfortunately, as the tiniest pieces of this machine, teachers, it is not always possible to decide how our duties will be carried out, besides outright rebellion.

I debate whether I should provide a laundry list of specific characteristics of the machine, its cogs, and their functions. I think this would be trite, as we all have our own understandings that hopefully are perpetually changing. The truth I put forth is simply that, my understanding of the truth. I challenge you as a teacher, human, thinker to examine your understanding of your role within the system. Be honest in seeking the good you do, and the atrocities, no matter how small, you commit. Honest reflection is a means purging and pruning anything unnecessary or ill.

I will make one solid indictment of the system, its teachers, and consequently myself: all children are not served equally; some experience great gains, others have experiences that are detrimental to the educational, personal, and public lives.

As we are cogs in a machine, so is the education system. Blame and intention are too minute to tease from the grand playground. Disrupt what you can, and be conscious.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#education #Foucault #SOSchat #OWS #p2

"The ideas of crime and punishment must be strongly linked and ‘follow one another without interruption… When you have thus formed the chain of ideas in the heads of your citizens, you will then be able to pride yourselves on guiding them and being their masters. A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly by the chain of their own ideas; it is at the stable point of reason that he secures the end of the chain; the link is all the stronger in that we do not know of what it is made and we believe it to be our own work; despair and time eat away the bonds of iron and steel, but they are powerless against the union of ideas, they can only tighten it still more; and on the soft fibres of the brain is founded the unshakable base of the soundest Empires’" (Foucault quoting Servan in Discipline and Punish)

In what ways does this link to education? Other institutions? The current state of things? Are we starting to peek behind the curtain?

Friday, April 20, 2012

0153: Teaching for Change? #Revolution?

#education #SOSchat #occupyedu #OWS

The concept of teaching for revolution extends far beyond the classroom. Yes, teachers teach for change. We want the learners in our care to leave with skills and understandings that will enable them to succeed. We want to provide the opportunity to access keys to a better future. But what is a better future? Is it simply graduating, going to college, getting a good job? Is it enlightenment? Is it power? What? If we are preparing our students to be consumers alone then we are doing them a monumental injustice. It’s possible to view success as access to products and services. But, could success be viewed as a transfer of power from one entity to another? A shift in the status quo? An outright overthrow or disruption? An equalization of powers? I think we should seek to answer these questions. Certainly, teaching for social justice has a root or two in the understanding that there is an imbalance of power. People, the People, must always push against authority when it becomes oppressive, suppressive, and flat out greedy. I don’t believe education as a whole will go the way of this form of teaching, but it has it’s place among the people who are blindly crushed beneath the heel of a leviathan. If you see injustice, if you know it as constant force in our day to day existence, help us gather and continue sharing ways we prepare our learners for success.

Monday, March 26, 2012

0134: Why Teach? A Charge to Critical Educators

#education #SOSchat #revolution #edreform #p2

As educators we must constantly assess why we continue as educators. We must examine our practice daily through reflection and evaluate whether or not we are teaching for what we deem to be the right reasons. It is up to the teacher, alone, what those “right reasons” are. There are many reasons for teaching, just as there are many reasons for education. Education as a system is dictated by various political and corporate forces; ignoring this is simply naïve. As educators, we are the final barrier between policy and the humans the policy affects (this flows up the bureaucratic continuum, as well— principals have some control over the way policy affects teachers and so forth). It must be noted that our refusal to carry out certain policies will undoubtedly result in disciplinary action of some sort, but if we deem a policy or anything stemming therefrom harmful to the learners in our care, it is our duty to disrupt said policy. I do not mean to say, at least at this point, that we should all openly rebel and refuse to do our jobs. Rather, we must be critical and vigilant in our pursuit of providing a “quality education” for the learners in our care. We must first identify within ourselves our own definition of quality education.

If the current system offers a complete and meaningful education with opportunity to learn, explore, and become more actualized then stay the course. If the system is beneficial to society as a whole, furthering the participatory processes necessary for the maintenance of an open society, then stay the course. However, if the system shows little or no intention of providing a context for enlightenment, empowerment, and even liberation, then the system cannot be considered benevolent and must be dismantled, and most certainly disrupted.

Teachers are not policy makers. We are at the bottom of the top-down bureaucratic pyramid. We have little say in what is prescribed for our classes and students, but we do have the choice to swallow the pill. We have the choice to follow doctors orders or not. I lean toward the belief that true education is necessary for people to be free, and fully human, especially in an institutionalized society. Humans should have a right and the power to determine how and if they are institutionalized. Society should be open. If we do not help the learners in our care build their critical minds and spirits, then they will never have a choice in anything. We did not have that choice. We were pushed through one institution and into others with little choice, many of us never questioned the validity of the practices that affected us, many of us still have not or will not. What I am proposing, I suppose, could lead to anarchy of a sort. Our institutions certainly provide structure, and there is a need, at least currently, for a structure. But, we, the People, should have a strong say in the structure. We have a right, a natural right, to determine what is best for us.

As teachers, we have the choice to provide learners with skills, tools, and experiences that will make possible their own personal enlightenment. We can also orchestrate their uninterruptible submission to corruption, consumption, and greed. We can mold critical free people, or we can create subservient sheep. I submit that my views may be absolutely wrong and should be questioned and scrutinized without relent, unless, of course, you find the critical spirit abhorrent, in which case you should quickly swallow any bit of snake oil sent your way. As educators, we must be critical. We must understand our power. We must act.

We are not radicals; we simply want what’s best for our students, our neighbors, communities, and countries. We will do what’s best. We will teach.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

0132: Topics in Underground Curriculum: Non-violence and Dealings with Authority

#SOSchat #education #occupyedu

It is beneficial to teach non-violence in the classroom, and to discuss its implications elsewhere. Non-violence is not always natural, but its a valuable tool and adds to the learner’s toolbox. Dialogue regarding violence, conflict resolution, and dealing with and around authority is invaluable. Time is not built-in for such conversations, but to neglect these topics is to set learners up for failure, danger, or death. The underground curriculum cannot be ignored.

I’ll expound later.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

0057: What if schools worked to strengthen communities instead of test scores?

#occupyedu #SOSchat #p2 #revolution

Originally posted December 2011

Perhaps teachers and school leaders should work to help communities strengthen themselves and organize against oppression. Teachers could teach problem solving and work with students and community members to develop a curriculum aka an action plan to address specific problems within the community. Sure literacy. Sure math. But mainly relevant problem solving. Economic development. Crime prevention. Adult education. Early childhood. All in between. What if schools were designed for enabling community transformation. What if we spent time on rebuilding communities instead of worrying with national standards. What if standardization was concerned with a high quality of life for everyone instead of a number?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

0131: #Education for Suppression and Control or Liberation and Enlightenment? Our choice.

#SOSchat #revolution #p2 #OWS

If education is necessary for society to remain open or democratic or participatory, then what are we providing our students? Would it be too radical to say that engaging in stringently paced test prep, or test prep at all, drastically impairs the ability of a learner to grasp the concept of rule by the people much less participate in it? Education can function as a system of subversion or of liberation and enlightenment. A system that is built around a test can in no way be a system of liberation. I’m not sure that enlightenment can be standardized either. If we are aware of this, then why or how do we continue? Do we continue doing the same thing, the same bland test prep, the same churched up test prep? Do we continue to systematically disable the generation in our care (mind you we will soon be in their care)? If we remain passive, then we are the architects of their demise, and ours. We are building the machine that will destroy us.

If we, as educators, are believers in open, democratic, and participatory societies, then we must resist. We must survive, yes, but resist more. We must do everything in our classrooms to ensure learners learn to participate, learn to become critical, learn to smell and identify shit when shit abounds. We must enable thinkers and doers, not sitters and getters. We are not blameless if students leave our classrooms as passive automatons. Find a way to disrupt and resist corruption. We must find a way to affect things outside our classrooms. We must engage other teachers in resistance. We must encourage teachers to really teach. We must engage each other in dialogue that leads to informed and effective action. We must find a way to effect policy. We must disrupt and alter, for the better, the punitive top down measures that stand to prevent the possibility of liberating and enlightening education.

Most important, we must connect with and support one another. We must engage others. The change necessary cannot be implemented by a few, if it is we stand to see another version of the same system emerge, only with a slight twist. We, educators, parents, lovers of democracy and open society, must stand together and build support for whatever change we see as best. Power in education has been in the wrong hands for too long. The pendulum need not swing the other day. The pendulum needs to stop swinging all together. The paradigm has shifted, but the pendulum still stands swinging as a political seismograph. As long as education is dictated by those whose interests lie outside the realm of education, then the education that enables critical thought and participation will not be possible. If we’re fine with the current system, then we should let it stand. If we’re not, then we should change it. But, it will not change if we remain passive. It will not change if we or our neighbors are asleep. For now, it’s time to wake up.

Monday, March 19, 2012

0129: So I’ve arrived at a personal tipping point, where do I go?

#education #SOSchat #revolution #occupyedu

Through writing, meditation, soul searching, dialogue, dialectic, and debate, I have arrived at a point of tension that requires some form of release. The crisis is that of my questioning and understanding of my role in public education. This moment is no new moment to me, nor is it original to me. It is a crisis that befalls, though it seems I have pulled it down upon myself very intentionally, anyone who participates within any institution; further, anyone who has any naïve belief in an institution and is gradually awakened to the reality of their chosen institution or institutions. I say this with the understanding that I have never doubted or been blind to the fact that public education has functioned in a sinister manner to divide and suppress people, at least this is my claim. I do, however, believe in the intention of many educators to work toward the liberation and enlightenment of the people with and/for whom they work (I would hope to be considered among this class of educators). Therein lies the crisis, educators want to aid in enlightenment and liberation; the system functions to divide and suppress. The system as it is functions to eliminate any possibility of a critical and literate populace through bland and numbing test prep from kindergarten forward. Mass standardization and narrowing curriculums do not lay the ground work for an open democratic society; rather, the road is paved for any form of rule by few without dissent or question. These ideas do not belong to me alone, but would be realized by anyone with a critical eye toward the practice of education— perhaps more saliently, the results of education as it is. Education, standardized education, has not closed any achievement gap, has not changed communities for the better, has not put more or better food on a table for the recipients of education. People have made money, but not the People. So, I arrive at my personal crisis. Where do I go? Do I continue working in an institution that seems to do more harm than good, especially in this climate? Do I fight from within? Do I seek more education? Do I seek more influence? Do I keep chopping away with many others in the blogosphere? What
can I do to amplify my voice, my struggle, and that of others? I’m not sure. I know the answers to my questions aren’t simple. I know I keep asking these questions. I do know that I need to continue seeking answers and asking questions. I need to keep connecting to other educators, rabble-rousers, and revolutionaries. There is a great beast enveloping and facing us. We must stand in solidarity to deliver ourselves, the beast, and help those being crushed deliver themselves. Scrutiny is important. Language is important. It is important that we remain humanistic and not humanitarian. It’s important that we listen. It’s important that we act. What next?