In fact, they’re getting mad!
By now, just about everyone who cares has seen the video of the young man castigating his history teacher for what I call “packet self teaching.”
I think the video largely speaks for itself and reflects ideas that I have written on this blog many times and have spoken on in both college and high school classrooms. I would like to add a couple of observations, however.
This video is just one more piece of evidence to support my hypothesis that if the catastrophe that we call education policy in this country is going to improve, then change must be driven by the students. Our politicians are all bought and paid for by the textbook publishers, private educational corporations and “market solution” ideologues. Since the 1980’s these market solutions have been implemented to virtually no effect. Despite this, all proposed reforms are based on the same failed premises of competition, assessment,
fear accountability. So government at all levels, local, state and federal, are invested in perpetuating the very problems that Mr. Bliss pointed out. In other words, they are useless.
Parents are starting to wake up to the balderdash that passes for education. They see the endless regimen of meaningless homework, the anxiety inherent in high stakes tests, the disconnect between education and learning that exists in the classroom. The problem is that they don’t have much in the way of options. Few can home-school, and even fewer can afford to send their students to private schools that actually provide the education that they want for their children–the kind of critical education that the wealthy demand for their own children–and almost all public schools are following the same nihilistic course.
And teachers? Just about every teacher hates what is becoming of our educational system. We all want to teach, but find that actually teaching the way Mr. Bliss, and everyone who knows anything about education, knows we should is, in fact, subversive.
I really can’t speak on the qualities of this particular teacher. I’ve not heard her side of the story and it is important to keep in mind that the video released only captures a small part of the interaction. What Mr. Bliss says during this time is spot on, but there might be an unknown context to the event that we just don’t have. During the video, however, Bliss mentions a comment that we must infer was previously made by the teacher: “You make a statement about, ‘Oh, this is my paycheck…'” Well, yes, that paycheck is pretty important. It’s how the teacher pays her mortgage and supports her own children, and in today’s economy, paychecks are harder to come by.
Teachers are under a great deal of pressure to conform. They are blackmailed. In many states, like Florida, teachers know that it’s not just a paycheck, but now that tenure has been taken away, it could be their jobs on the line if they don’t get those test scores up. We hate the system, but we hate being homeless more. So many of us conform.
Yes, it’s very possible that his history teacher was lacking passion for her job. It’s hard to be passionate about something over which you are being blackmailed. It’s very likely that the “packets” that Mr. Bliss decries are aligned with some mandatory state exam. Any passion that the teacher might bring to class only takes time away from teaching all important “test-taking skills.”
So I would like to ask for a certain amount of sympathy for the teacher.
With politicians in the pockets of those who have every intention of doing away with public education, parents who are out of options and teachers who have been collectively cowed by bad policy, that leaves students. Students must take the lead in pushing for reforms. They know they are being scammed. They know there’s a better way. They have to take the lead, or there will never be change.
To do this, students will have to be disobedient…and organized. I thought it was telling that the position of the school as stated in the news is that Jeff Bliss should have expressed himself “appropriately.” Balderdash. Had Bliss done the “appropriate” thing and gone to his administrator and explained politely how he was disappointed by the quality of teaching…he would have been ignored. He would have been just one more kid with a complaint. He certainly would not have become the focus of a national debate. We all know this. The last thing students need to be at this point is appropriate.
The policies that are destroying the minds of generations of Americans are not “appropriate.” They are crippling. They are a form of abuse directed at students and at their future prospects as fulfilled and well rounded human beings. We wouldn’t expect the victim of a crime or of a life threatening attack to be polite in response. Well our current education policy is an attack, an assault against students. They know it. Don’t expect them to be appropriate when the tether finally snaps…and I really believe that metaphorical tether is unraveling.
Finally, I’d like to send a request to students. Taking action does not have to be entirely confrontational. In our anger, no matter how justified, we often forget that we have allies. Thousands of teachers in every district refuse to be cowed by this ridiculous approach to
deform reform. Many of us do provide the kind of education that Bliss so passionately demands. Such teaching requires courage in the face of tremendous pressure to conform. It’s very difficult to maintain our passion in the face of such absurdity. Fortunately, there is one tried and true means of reinforcing that passion. If you have such a teacher, tell them “thank you.” That’s all it takes. Most teachers are not motivated by “bonus checks” or other carrot approaches. When our students appreciate us and what we are trying to do, that’s what drives us.
Yes, by all means, confront those policies and the devotees of these policies, but don’t forget the subversives. It’s important to cultivate your alliances.