0143: About my practice, radicalism, and strong rhetoric.
#education #revolution #SOSchat
Alinsky teaches that generalizations are dangerous. One who speaks in generalizations is often distant from the practice of which they speak. I agree. For my own sake I will write in specifics as best I can, and I will forego editing for flow today. Let’s keep the thoughts raw.
I teach and have taught in what would be considered the third world of the United States. In these places violence, rape, drug abuse, gang activity, incest, illiteracy, etc. are the norm.
Communities suffer. Kids suffer and are hopeless. It is transforming to teach in these places. The fight against cynicism requires strong language and ideology.
Their general attitude is “fuck the test”. Mine has become quiete similar. Paying lip service to doing what is “best for children” by supporting “best practices” that get the “best results”, but still leave children illiterate, hopeless, and suffering is not acceptable. If the communities were changing as a result of our “best practices” I could get behind it.
I taught algebra in these communities. Lived within earshot of the gunshots. Helicopters for drug raids. Raids of migrant camps and immigrant housing. Been threatened, intimidated, frightened, triumphant, etc. I see systems that simply do not acknowledge the people I know, love, and trust. I did not bother teaching entirely to the test, even though that consumed some of my time. Rather, we worked on connecting mathematical concepts. Making them accessible and applicable. We investigate together using any tools we could find. We did word puzzles, riddles, brain teasers, textbook work, used wikis, YouTube, cellphones, anything to learn algebra, but more important to learn to access information— to become powerful. We also wrote programs, created art, literature, music. We cried, laughed and argued. We became and become family. Of these kids, “poor”, “hopeless”, “abused”, “forgotten”, “invisible”, many outperformed themselves, their peers in better settings on standardized tests (blah, blah). They’ve gone on to colleges, first generation to college. Some of the younger ones have entered schools of math and science. Others entered the military. Some have chosen non-violence as a means of participating in violent communities. Others have been murdered. Some are in prison. Some will be. Some will never be. The impact, however, is not because of me, though maybe some of my practices made their successes more likely. If anything, I let them be, we worked together. We learned together. I did not teach.
Some of these students arrived at the understanding that they were being paddled too frequently, and with too much force. They were. It was daily and disgusting. They opted without my knowledge to steal and destroy said paddle. They arrived at this power shift through their own discussions, perhaps having stemmed through what was learned in a few classes. A moment of individual transforming power can alter the course of a life.
I left algebra to get away from the testing. I still help with it, but more as a consultant to other teachers and academic coaches. I teach music for my soul, and the opportunity to engage more freely in open discussion and creative action with my students. We create culture together. It’s similar to my practice in maths, just with fewer constraints. We have the option to discuss at length when someone saw someone get shot the night before. When someone dies or goes to prison. We get to interact more naturally. We get to create for the sake of creating. We can even focus on remediating lost skills—math, literacy, content literacy— with no pacing guide, and through arts integration methods. All students should be able to arrive at new understandings and build language for expression and transformation through learning. I get to be a part of this and I am grateful.
I am a radical teacher. I fail. Persevere. Agitate. Teach. I will continue doing these things.
Until people are equal, I suggest we continue fighting. We’ll rock the boat until it tips over.
My practice is not unique. It is not the norm in many cases, but is neither original nor unique. It’s modeled after admirable practices of other teachers, mentors, philosophers, and is dictated by the needs of the learners in my care.
0096: How to Teach the Test: A Guide for Radical Teachers
#education #occupyedu #revolution #school
Public education has been reduced to the narrow teaching of a narrow curriculum by teachers who fear constantly for their jobs. Educators have been or are being rendered powerless by egregious reforms that harm students and teachers. Testing as the goal of education is criminal. It is brainwashing through the systematic dumbing down of an entire generation. The constant test prep and dehumanization leaves untold destruction that we have not even begun to uncover. Our hands are tied. So what can be done? In short, rebel. Tell the truth. Teach the test. Teach about the people who helped make testing a reality. Share the reasons for testing. Share with your students how testing is a tool of class division and community disruption. Tell them how testing has and is destroying people’s ability to think freely. Tell them how test scores are used to close schools and banish committed and caring teaching from public education. Tell them how testing has created a crisis which has opened a market, school privatization, that seeks capital gains. Tell them how the textbook industry starves their brains and provides incomplete curriculum to undertrained teachers in order to sell more remediation. Then teach them the subject matter you’re paid to teach. But, help them learn. Help them learn to learn. Teach them, rather help them learn that they are powerful and have much to add to culture. Instill in them the power to create. Nurture their curiosity. If you teach algebra, teach algebra, not the bastardized Glencoe McGraw-Hill fully aligned version. Teach for the joy of teaching. Help learners learn to crave understanding. Teach the Test as the monster it is. Motivate the students to learn beyond the test, thus crushing it’s power as a tool of class separation and subversion. It’s a beast with which we must reckon daily as teachers, but it’s a beast that we must and shall defeat.
0085: Unpacking the phrase “education is your ticket out of poverty.”
#teaching #revolution #literacy #education
I heard the phrase “education is your ticket out of (insert situation)” used by teachers, principals, parents, counselors, etc., etc. I’ve used it. I think it is often spouted thoughtlessly in the attempt to focus students on the task we choose for them. It positions education as a panacea and me, the educator as the distributor of that all important cure. This phrase, when used like this, turns into a tool of oppression, forcing students to focus on the falsehood that I, the teacher, have something that they need, and will withhold it until they bend to my will. This statement asks for non-critical compliance. By saying, “education is your ticket out”, it is implied first that the learner is already in an undesirable situation. Judgment is passed, the learner is told that he or she is inferior and needs a way out, the way which is provided by the educator or the education system. Second, the statement implies that the alternative is better. By leaving one class of people, the family, friends, and neighborhood the recipient of education will suddenly better off. They will then be the haves, having left the have-nots behind. This language does not encourage transformation; rather, it encourages blind abandonment. It serves to turn the underclass and the oppressed into oppressors themselves. Additionally, it positions teachers or the education system itself as the catalyst for change or even as savior. As long as the oppressed believe they require a savior they will always be oppressed. Transformation must be the aim of education, not forced dependence.
I do not mean to say that education is not a tool for transformation or even transcendence. It is. Unfortunately, it is often poised as a means to “leave those poor people behind”. As long as education is just a ticket out then there will be no transformation of the rapidly growing underclass in our country. Education should benefit the community not just the individual. As teachers, we must be cognizant of our language. We must do our best to empower learners and communities to do what’s best for them. If that means leaving, so be it. If it means uniting to become better educated, and to reduce crime, and build their own economy, then let it be. As long as teachers function as missionaries who drop in, feed the ailing and runaway, then there will be no change. True education is not a ticket out, it is a tool for transformation.
0068: No #revolution without reading comprehension, only slaughter
#critical #education #literacy
Reading comprehension has successfully been reduced to a segment of the tested curriculum that simply involves pulling facts from a passage to answer a question. It may reach slightly further and ask that a reader make a mild inference about the passage, but the answer is neatly provided in a multiple choice form. Reading comprehension equals or should equal critical thought. By reducing it to a mere tested segment of the “reading process” the prescribers of such practice have systematically crippled a generation or so of democratic thinkers.
Reading comprehension requires not only the understanding of the words read in a text, but also an understanding of the context of the experience out of which the text was born. Comprehension connects dots and experiences. It is multidimensional. A reader connects situations and analyzes vast fields of information to build understanding of words and more important the worlds in which they live.
If one is incapable of analyzing texts, situations, and contexts then they are helpless in a literate society. They are at the mercy of the media and those who they look to for guidance. They become victims without knowing it. People who are victims of our “sit and get” over-tested educational systems are controllable, they’re manageable, they’re taught to accept their oppression as a way of life. We must make sure, as teachers concerned with our own futures and those of our fellow human beings, that we do everything in our own power to give our pupils the tools they need to think critically and comprehend words and worlds alike. Information flows freely, but in that mix is a wolf among sheep. It we are producing sheep, then we are ourselves Judas Goats leading our herd to slaughter. We must create critical readers, producers, consumers, and distributers. We must produce our partners and successors.