The proverbial "they" say that the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. So it's no wonder that our public schools, birthed during industrialization, are treated like factories. The buildings are drab, dreary and totally uninspiring. Students are shuttled in, forced to sit still for six hours and learn (read: memorize) content that is so far from their reality that it is rendered completely irrelevant and uninteresting. Then they're tested on it. Those who pass inspection, move on to the workforce. Those who fail, well...
And here this truth stands as an epithet of where this country places its value. Here we see the systemic genesis of the inequities that exist in public school education. We progress down the factory line and move further and further away from the purpose of public schools and those they are supposed to serve. Schools are set up to fail and then torn down, as are the administrators, teachers and students who (dys)function in them on a daily basis.
Teaching is one of the most human(e) professions one could think of. And yet, we are faced with times where the profession is not respected, not honored and not revered. Where our children are dumbed down and their genius is wiped out. Where our systems are led by business people, so much so, that the buzz words I remember being the cornerstone of my business school education (like data and accountability) are now firmly entrenched in the land of education-speak.
I find nothing wrong with backing things up with data and holding people accountable, but at what cost? Do we then leave out the humanity of the profession and close "failing schools" as one would a company whose bottom line has been in the red for years? Do we take an "It's business, not personal" approach to a profession that is nothing but personal in every regard? I mean, we are dealing with people after all, right? And not just people, but young people, people's children, our children. I'd say it doesn't get more personal than that.
But now I consider just how much my business degree benefits me more than I knew since my school system is being led by people who know data and accountability better than they know any one of the city's students and how best to ensure their future is a bright one. But none of my students have ever come to school as shiny new gadgets worthy of the most innovative marketing campaign the world has ever seen. All I have ever encountered are 11 and 12-year-olds who live in shelters, who suffer from varying levels of medical, educational and physical neglect. Students, who have somehow made it to the sixth grade, but can barely read. These are my students. Yet somehow, I was hired to be a teacher, a professional, and at best, I am expected to be a factory line worker.
As I stand on the front lines of the battle that is being a NYC public school educator, the fight is precisely this: cultivating independent, creative, critical thinkers in a climate that seeks conformity and blind-eyed acceptance. I recently watched an RSA Animate of a speech given by Ken Robinson that was passed onto me by a loved one. As I watched, I wondered how I can subversively foster a true educational environment in my classroom that isn't bogged down by insanely structured lesson plans, curriculum and standardized tests aimed at turning my students into cogs. And more importantly, how do I keep my students from continuing down the conveyor belt as their apathy grows in tandem with their distrust and lack of interest in the learning process? It seems I have entered the business of trickery...tricking the system as well as the students, so that I can actually do my job.