Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Say Something

Lloyd Dobler would say something.
If you don't, someone will.  This truism could be applied to countless scenarios but fits well the field of public education.  Fact is that there are plenty of folks out there saying stuff about education. The media, politicians, reform leader profiteers, philanthropists are all weighing in.  Most of their ideas do not originate or even consider input from teachers.  Some of these folks are more celebrity than educator.   While some know what they are talking about, there is no shortage of poorly informed ideas. 

Teachers are fond of keeping their views within our classroom walls though on occasion we pass along articles to each other originating from those that are critical of those within our profession.  Some of that criticism fuels our fire to improve.   What teachers and public schools face in today's climate though is a different animal entirely.  Getting down to brass tacks there are those out there doing and saying things harmful to teachers and teaching and it is incumbent upon teachers(and others) to speak up.

Like just about everyone else out there teachers tend to think they work really hard.  Avoiding this debate, what is agreed upon is that the teaching profession is a tough one that has a habit of wearing people down.  Lots of good talented people quit.  Not all teachers are saints.  But they are not robots either.  No great teacher goes through lessons in a mechanical manner detached from their surroundings.  The simple act of teaching involves giving.  Most people can only give so much.  Famous for what some call "whining", teachers might deserve some criticism for our self-pity.   But it is out of necessity in an effort to find support among shared hardship.  It is also true that unless you teach, you just cannot understand all the job involves.  Those who did so for 3 years on their way to getting credentialed up to administration simply can no longer comprehend like those knee deep in a classroom.  The camaraderie and awareness of what teachers need gets lost in translation, differing priorities and perspective.

These differences are magnified when discussing the contrast between those trying to shape education and those working in it.  The average teacher rarely engages directly in policy making,  choosing instead to dutifully labor in the calling they love.  This may no longer be possible given the assault on the profession.  Ill informed individuals along with powerful and self interested groups have set sights on remaking the "school" dynamic in a way more beneficial to business and their own ideological principles.  The battle front for this has been the media and in the legislature.  Nationally, at the state level and locally much is being done to undermine faith and support in one of our most significant public institutions,  the public school system.

He is a "General" after all.
The voices rising against pubic education often cite international comparisons, test data and carefully select facts to convince scores of people that in fact little is being done right.  They can be convincing, especially without response.  Unions and other education advocates have proven unable to match their volume or effectiveness or have abdicated their responsibility to maintain their influence.    They instead end up as targets themselves and are named as among the chief problems with the system.  There are causes for concern.  But we are leaving the enumeration and resolution of those to people far from the schoolhouse door.  Its analogous to entrusting military policy in the Middle East to an arms manufacturer or maybe the Surgeon General.  Or a large school system to a magazine publisher...nevermind.

The future for our schools is far from certain.   What is clear is that if substantive and effective changes are to occur teachers must speak up.  Their views and experiences must be the bedrock of the future.  As virtuous as any voices may seem if they are not formed with the thoughts of the simple teacher in mind, they are flawed.  Until such time as this occurs it is only natural that things head in the wrong direction.   The course will be guided solely by carefully selected data or knee jerks. 

Teachers must be advocates for their students and schools on a broader stage.  They must educate themselves and voice their views at a level equal to that of the philanthropist billionaires, well connected lobbyist, high minded edupreneurs and opportunistic politician if policy is to be well informed and beneficial.  The debate needs balance, reason and common sense injected.   So get informed.  Take action.  Speak up.  Now is the time for all good teachers to come to the aid of education.  If they do not, a disproportionate degree of influence will remain in the hands of the privileged connected few who lack expertise and perspective to really know what is good and what only sounds like it.


  1. As a teacher who writes about teaching, I have found that it's hard to be the mole that sticks her head out of the ground. There's a lot of people out there, just waiting with big mallets to whack the heck out of you. Sometimes just for the fun of it, sometimes just because they have access to a mallet and an audience.

    Thanks, guys, for speaking up, even when it's not the easy path.

  2. One of our colleagues says that she worries about being "the highest nail on the board." It's easier to follow behind the rest because that highest nail is the one that gets hit first.