Saturday, September 7, 2013

Drafted into Arne's army

I understand now why some of the good ones are leaving....

While kids saunter back into school, back, surrounded by cinder block walls and windows that open just enough to slip through a few fingers, the sun's dance arcs visibly lower day by day.

The dichotomy between the dull education that passes for science and the fantastic changes happening outside our building as we plummet towards winter's darkness disturbs me more with each passing year, as I stumble towards my own winter months.

Truth is I am a public high school teacher, and as such, an agent of the government, bound by the curriculum of a local board that fears, as it should, the governing bodies above it. Arne Duncan may be an evil puppet of corporate thinking, a misguided fool, or just another human trapped in his own mythology fed by money, but his actions directly affect my classroom, no matter his motivations.

I accept money to do what I do, money extracted (mostly) from local families who often struggle to pay it, to deliver "education" to the town's children. So long as I am delivering an education defined by folks who have never set foot in my town, and who, even more damning, would not care to, I am part of a process that does harm to a lot of children.

So long as I tend to the needs of the children in front of me, help them see and understand the natural world through the wonderful human story we call science, and show them that happiness and living a good life are both possible, I am part of a process that helps children grow to be joyful adults.

Every time "college and career ready" dictates are trumpeted from on high, I have a contractual obligation to impose them on our children. Every time "college and career ready" dictates are trumpeted from on high, I have a moral obligation to sift through them to shield our children from harm.

It is not enough to say close the classroom door and teach. It is not enough to say kids are better for having a particular teacher along the way who helped them. It is not enough to pretend that subversion solves anything beyond the niggling thoughts that dare to interrupt your sleep.

The schism between what I ought to do and what I am required to do widens with each wedge of bundled cash the Gates and the Broads of the world shove into whatever crevices they need to crack. Good people at all levels need to act in the best interests of the children under their care, and too few of us are.

I am fortunate to work with a principal who focuses on what he believes is right for our children in a challenging district that happens to be my hometown, but that's not enough anymore. The thunder of foreign hooves rumbles through our town now, and I don't want to join that army.

What do you plan to do when you get drafted to serve their needs instead those of your children?

What would Dr. Diane Ravitch do?


Mike Thayer said...

What do I plan to do now that I've been drafted? (I'm under no illusions - I'm in the army now!)

As soon as possible, file for conscientious objector status. And find some other way to serve the students.

doyle said...

Dear Mike,

I think that's as good an answer as I can hope to find. I don't want to leave; not sure if I can stay if things keep going the way they're going.

(I love what I do--otherwise this would be easy....)

Mike Thayer said...

That's the crux of the matter, isn't it? We teachers do what we do because we want to serve students. So what happens when "serving students" takes on a meaning we don't recognize?

What scares me: I often think lots of people in education know this is happening. What scares me more: No one seems to be able to stop it.

doyle said...

Dear Mike,

Reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man...."

Jenny said...

It makes me even more grateful to teach first graders now. I have a lot more freedom and even the things I am required to teach are (mostly) appropriate for their age and needs. I worry more for my daughters now than I do for me.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

That's a big relief--we need to get it right in the early years.

Not sure what I would do today if my kids were young.