14 March 2010

. . . Until Morale Improves

I have started this page too many times over the past week and years. In the past two weeks the latest assault on teachers has been launched by the media, first in the New York Times Magazine section, and most recently by Newsweek in a cover article entitled “The Key to Saving American Education.” On the cover and behind the bold statement is a blackboard on which is written in chalk, in a style reminiscent of punishment assignments for mischievous students, “We must fire bad teachers.”

Why have I started this page too many times over the past week and years? Because inevitably I feel compelled to make some response refuting the absurd claims made in articles such as this. Let me give one small example: in the current Newsweek article⎯about the second or third sentence⎯the authors write, “Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world.” This totally absurd statement, made with no references or even numbers to substantiate even the smallest part of the claim, is nothing more than the beginning of an elaborately woven fairy tale (hence, “Once upon a time . . .”) about the poor princesses (our children) trapped in the castle (the schools) by the evil witch (the teachers) for her own wicked purposes. Somehow, the authors suggest, we have to turn that malevolent force into good, and having accomplished this feat, the key to saving American education will have been turned. What crap!

The Times article, “Building a Better Teacher,” attempts rather lamely to probe the nature of teaching in an effort to produce a better teacher. The authors focus on the work of Dennis Lemov who has constructed a taxonomy of teacher behaviors that, he claims, will facilitate learning. The book comes out this Spring. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Why have I started this page too many times over the past week and years? Because I won’t spend my time again defending what does not any longer need defending.

Teaching is an impossible profession. And I believe its influence is highly overrated. In the textbook I have been asked to use for a Foundations of Education course at the University, Diane Ravitch is prominently portrayed as a conservative advocate of strict standards, but over the past several weeks her change of heart⎯and position⎯has been documented volubly in the mainstream media. So what, you wonder? Well, it means that everyone who had paid attention to her voice over the past several decades and transformed their pedagogy according to her mandates, suddenly find themselves practicing the wrong profession. Not effectively teaching at all!

Teachers are artists. Some have great vision: they are the Picassos and Rembrandts and even Van Goghs of our society. Some may even be painting Brillo boxes on canvasses. But their work hangs in no museum, and their work does not sell for millions of dollars. Indeed, sometimes their work becomes a clerk in Wal-Mart, or becomes a housewife or lawyer or accountant. And sometimes their work is blown apart in a war started by some of the other products of the teacher.

And most of the teachers keep on keeping on. Many are not brilliant though they are more than capable; indeed, they are brave and they persevere amid insurmountable obstacles and odds. And they persist despite the calumnies heaped upon them by ignorant writers in popular magazines who owe their skill to their unacknowleddged teachers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Don’t reach out to your audience. Instead, light a fire that can be seen from miles away.” - Martha Graham

15 March, 2010 11:27  
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