I feel like the tone of my rhetoric on education is getting more impassioned lately. More light than heat, that's what I try to do. Inasmuch as I'm largely critical of conservative-minded reformers -- the ilk touting school choice, high-stakes standardized testing, charter schools without consequence, abolishment of tenure -- you have to hand it to them. They stay on message and own the ears of most of the power-brokers in our society. Even self-proclaimed liberals or political Democrats are turned on by the ostensible "commonsensiness" of holding teachers accountable to student learning. You must be an inhuman monster if you want to leave a child behind. Can't argue with that I guess.
But I'm starting to believe that some heated resistance is justified. Teachers have been and will always likely be the whipping-persons of our perpetual moral, economic, and intellectual degradation. And while I support teachers and the folks who support them, typically those that grace the left-hand side of Huffington Post Education, I hate to say it, but I need to be a little harder on everyone. I read a lot on education. It's a Sisyphean task to keep up with the scholarship, the practice, and all the latest punditry online. Day in and day out, however, I keep reading the same progressive memes in education over and over again:
- Increase teacher status;
- Pay them more;
- Don't test so much;
- Teach "democratically" (although I'm confident throwing democracy in front of everything does little);
- Teaching isn't a part time job;
- Teach for social justice (and I'm also confident that to many the phrase doesn't mean what they think it means);
- If you can read this, thank a teacher; and finally
- Light a candle and inspire the children.
I don't mean to be cynical. I hope I'm not. Not yet. But I'm tired, so tired of saying and so tired of reading the same things. For instance, when I wrote about the potential of a test boycott, little did I know that there were previous boycotts. A lot of good that did. Another example: I am dumfounded by this "new" discovery of the low status of teaching and how it could help sustain a more respectable profession. Those who come up with this stuff must not possess the slightest historical acumen. A five-minute search on EBSCO or ERIC would reveal that status has been a problem for decades. Sure, we need to restate the obvious for new generations of readers, listeners, and commentators on education. But in all of this time, we have not enacted a single worthwhile policy to address this status problem? How many times do we have to thank a teacher, gift them the tiny inspirational quote books you pick up while queuing at Hallmark, before the lip service turns into something useful?
Let me be as clear as crystal: I'm a passionate defender of public education, of public school teachers, and education as an actual discipline and craft to be studied with extensive opportunities for clinical practice. Read everything I've written online, I'm an open book. Yet, don't you think teachers and supporters of public education wave the white flag a little too early for the sake of civility? As often as I've heard educators over the years complain about testing, about test scores, and test preparation, they still do it. And I don't mean they merely tolerate it. Many embrace it, live it, love it, and go sort of overboard with practicing for those tests. Teachers keep giving and capitulating, getting very little in return. Alternative to collective bargaining or passionate pleas for respect, maybe it's high time for educators to cast aside civility for just a moment and start punching some people in the mouth. Just saying.