Teaching as Subversion

Note: this is just a rambling piece of writing that I used to process through a discussion we had in class early this summer. It’s not quite finished, but it’s a piece that has been ringing in my head throughout the summer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a teacher mentioned one week in class--her question of, where is the book that encourages teachers to step outside the walls of their own classroom and engage in changing education? I’ve read so many pedagogical books that are critical but are solely focused on classroom practices. These are helpful books, but they aren’t doing much to change the educational landscape. The truth is, research shows that kids in the US are actually performing better than they have in many years. There are teachers and administrators across the country who give their lives to kids and who care about helping kids to become critical, passionate, creative people. While the state of education is not falling apart, there are, however, major cracks in its foundation. When a building has cracks in its foundation, it becomes structurally unsound….I fear this for the state of education in our country. Running schools using a business model, a push for seemingly all students to attend college, keeping teachers from having a part in creating school, district, state, and national level policies and standards, a heavy emphasis on assessment, the devaluing of creativity, inequality in resources based on tax base, treating teachers as paper-pushers rather than the professionals they are….the list of problems is overwhelming.

In my experience when teachers do step out, voice concern, or attempt to enact change, they are labeled as subversive, insubordinate, disobedient. For many, these labels are terrifying. They can damage one’s teaching career. I tend to be idealistic when it comes to teaching, so I think being “let go” from a job and labeled as insubordinate may not destroy a person’s career entirely if he/she can justify the insubordination and back it with sound and acceptable research. Is stepping out risky? Of course. But what happens when nobody says anything? Historically, when people are silent about inequity and injustice, the gaps of inequality widen and the injustice spreads like ringworm in a wrestling room. I want my son to attend public school, but if we continue to sit back and let things get worse, what will education look like in ten years when he enters high school?

I believe it is teachers’ responsibility to not only be engaged in their classrooms but outside as well. Most teachers devote much of their lives to teaching and helping kids. They go early, stay late, make phone calls home during their personal time, drag their families to games and concerts and performances, stay up late to create lessons, grade papers during any free time they may have left. The families of teachers often get put on the backburner just when teachers are meeting their daily obligations. My own son has said, “Mom, you always grade papers.” Granted, he’s five, and things are very black and white for him. I really am not always grading papers, but the comment did cause me to halt a bit, step back, and rethink my priorities. How do we balance our families, our jobs, and being an activist? Ultimately, I do want my son to see his parents as involved in his life AND involved in the lives of others. I want him to see his parents as people who fight to make a difference for the good of others because that’s who I want him to become.

There’s not an easy solution to these dilemmas. But, my parents always told me that nothing worth fighting for comes easy...

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