I didn’t sleep well last night because a note about an innocent note about the partaking of a meal by those involved in a Springboard initiative meeting of some kind. Really, it did upset me so because it punctuates the long sentence I served as a member of the faculty of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. I left the place knowing that I had not won the battle I had been fighting for 28 years, to make education a medium for growing intelligence. I had begun to relax a bit by distancing myself when the Springboard note came up on my computer screen, a note from the very person who had been asked by my once colleagues to take over teaching the course in the teaching of English I had taught for all those years. Unbelievable, but not. For the past several years before I took leave of the university, I was under intense pressure from my administrators who, I think, may have been under pressure from the local school authorities (including the person in the district who was managing English education-a student of mine at one time who, when I would see her or ask her for a conversation, consistently turned away) to find a way to cause me to leave my position so that I would no longer be interfering with student progress to careers in Springboard teaching.
I have published this note on my reasons for leaving my career earlier than I had intended. As those who teach in the College of Education should know, I left because I was not only being pushed to teach to an idea of education I found to be abhorrent and utterly ridiculous, but because I was being told, with hints of the threatening, to change the grades of students who could not write well and were not able to engage themselves in the kind of critical reading that English should help its students be able to do.
Here is the resignation note, again. It might be helpful to those who now teach who do want to help in the cause of building a better because it is intelligent democratic society.
The resignation note
I have begun the process of resigning from my position as and associate professor in the College of Education. I am resigning because there is no support here for the kind of work I have done and continue to do. I am resigning because, though a new Dean tells me that we are going to change the way the College operates, I have every reason to believe that the College will continue to do the kind of work it has always done because those who work in the College believe that the work they do is not only good work, but some of it excellent work. Good or excellent, the State of Nevada still has one of the worst records for education in the nation, this in a nation where it is evident that education is not working for the good of the people.
In numerous posts to the blog site lafered.com, I have commented on what I understand, through my kind of research, to be the nature of the education most receive in the United States of America, its inadequacy in helping individuals attain the skills, knowledge, and attitudes essential to citizenship in a society that, by design, necessitates the informed participation of those served by the government, a government that should be one that does what is necessary to insure the welfare of all of the people who consent to live under the government, that is, citizens who have the ability to engage in a community decision making process that allows the concerns of every individual to be heard and for those hearing what is said, take into consideration the needs and desires expressed by individuals to legislate for the betterment, for policies that improve the quality of life for the human beings who are citizens.
The lack of concern in the American school system for this conversation and the refusal to consider the needs of people who, by virtue of their citizenship, are both allowed to and obligated to be informed and able to use the truths they cull from the information they pursue decisions that are about the welfare of self while, at the same time, tempered by a deep understanding of individuality, their own and others, that produces a high degree of empathy and, thus, concern for the welfare of others who, too, are individuals with their own needs and desires.
What we consider as educators in the United States of America is not the needs of individuals. Individuality is not appreciated and those who work in American schools understand well that expressions of individuality in the schools, be they teacher’ expressing themselves as themselves or students expressing the product of their original thought, are not welcome. Standardization, for the sake of accountability, is the accepted normal in most schools and those who come to the school knowing that the standardization of outcomes for individuals denies each individual his right to be and become the unique self he or she can be, has no voice in the system. Regimentation is the norm and a norm soon accepted by those who wish to keep their jobs and work in peace. Those who express their individuality, who reason to a point where it is unacceptable to self to abided by the policy and rules that enforce conformity rarely find allies and find themselves isolated within the system.
Not only are they isolated, but they are often shunned and not for the wrongfulness of their behavior but because they remind others of how shamelessly they have given up the very rights upon which a democratic nation is predicated, the right to be heard and the right to have influence on the rules and regulations that infringe upon individual freedom. In our America, the early 21st century America, few believe any more in the right to speak out and even fewer hold this right as the most sacred of rights, a right that is also an obligation to the society if that society is to be a true democracy,
It is not really at all that difficult to figure out how to build a school system that helps grow proper citizens of a democratic society. A long time ago, John Dewey provided American society with the necessary educational philosophy that, instituted through policy and carried out through the proper development of good curriculum and philosophically guided methodology, curriculum and methods born of the need to develop individuality, individuality governed by the self for the sake of the society, for the sake of fairness and justice, for the sake of being a human amongst other humans who understands the value of each and self as one of the many and important as such. Dewey is patronized by many but his teachings applied by few, the many distracted from considering the philosophical underpinnings of education for democracy as they busy themselves following the orders of authorities whose credentials they have been conditioned to ask nothing of.
I am resigning because the kind of conversation that schools must help students to be come a part of, the conversations in which students must engage in their own minds and with others isn’t the conversation that takes place at schools and part of the reason for this is that in the schools where teachers are taught to teach such conversation not only does not take place, it frightens the professors because to engage wastes time they could be using otherwise to fulfill the requirements for career advancement. Without the conversation few good ideas as to how to proceed toward truly viable educational goals are generated. Most of what is taught is what the professors have been taught by others who never really think of the valid purposes of education in a democratic society or the consequences for democracy of a populace that will not so engage, that knows not how, that has no ambition to be the people by whom the laws that govern them are made.
I am retiring because my voice is an intimidating one. I have been told this by many of those who work in the school system and by most who work in this College of Education. Not only have I been told, almost directly, to shut up, but the avenues for communication that I have used to converse have been shut down. In the college where I work we once had available access to an all college e-mail portal. That, one of our administrators decided, was too open so the messages sent were first examined by an administrative assistant to determine whether it should be released for all to read. Then, that “open” line was shut off from faculty completely and all messages for the whole of the faculty had to be sent to an administrative assistant who, when the message was approved sent it out as a Dean’s office message forwarded to the faculty.
When I complained about this and one of our Dean’s decided that the college should have a means to share “out of the box” ideas, a new faculty chat-address was established. I wrote to it regularly and hardly received any kind of reply, the replies I did get, rather nasty, focusing on the mechanics of the e-mails and not the content or the meaning of the messages. I continued to write until, on day, that line of communication was shut down too. Interestingly, no one but myself complained about the shuttering. I believe that this action came about at the request of my colleagues. Before the line was closed off, the Dean of the College called me to say that he knew I would be angered by the move, but so it had to be.
Over the twenty-seven years that I have worked in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno I have written at least three vision or purpose statements for the College. One was adopted and is still referenced as the conceptual framework for the College. It precepts, at least 20 years old now, are mentioned in advertising—a graphic representing the elements of the document appear on syllabi and on posters and banners seen around the College of Education building. In meetings of faculty, no reference is ever made to those elements. There is no discussion of what it means to be a reflective teacher or a teacher who values learning and democracy. Every few years a committee is appointed to develop a new vision and none of them has drawn a clear picture of what it is we should be judging the value of our work against.
For most, the lack of concern for sense of goals for teacher education that are relevant to the kind of goals the teachers we teach should have, that the teachers we teach should be demanding because they are goals that are sound in regard to the development of American citizens who are informed, thoughtful, and vocal in the public arena. We do not care that those who do come to teaching with a truly patriotic agenda, to make democracy work, to help students become real participants in society’s decision making processes, to insure that individuality is preserves while one learns how to be a vocal individual amongst others that are just as vocal, just as informed, just as thoughtful.
Looking around, it is not at all difficult to see the results of an education system that is about conformity, blind conformity, adherence to rules that need not make sense, followed for the sake of staying out of trouble, for the sake of advancing in the system that works for the good of the few who have the wealth and power to have their agendas met at the expense of others even having the opportunity to bring their agendas to the table. In the United States of America, in the 21st century, the old adage that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” describes well the current reality. To it should be added that the powerful get more powerful and the not powerful get weaker by the minute. Sadly, those who are poorer for the current system, those who are disempowered are, in the schools, taught to believe that this is not only how things are, but how they have to be and, therefore how they are going to be, like it or not.
What we teach students in our schools is how to get along, how to live with the realities they face, to stay in line and never think outside the box. The revolutionary society that a democracy must be, a society in a constant state of change because new minds think new thoughts and the ideas of their owners contribute to the conversation, a society that should be evolving to become the more perfect union, is made stagnant by those who think they benefit from the status quo. Students and their teachers are taught to that good is to be quiet, good is to do what you are told, to be the good student, the good employee, the good citizen by taking what ever pledge you are forced to take, to solute the flag without concern for what the pledge might commit one to or what is symbolized by showing allegiance to ideas that one hardly understand by saluting whatever and whoever holds positions of authority.
Schools are about being good with being exploited, with wanting the goodies that corporations provide over the right to individuality, to the power that comes with growth of a thinker, with a position in life assigned by others that one is made to believe is one of the limited options available by someone else’s list. It is about being a good worker and a good consumer, good in both cases often leading to something less than a satisfied life. Consuming rather than producing things that are meaningful, rather than engaging in the kind of conversation that should consume the developing human beings time, this for the sake of becoming a more fully realized human being, a being aware of the potential of the mind and growing every minute through the exercising of the very element of existence that make one human, the human mind.
The modern day schools are not about helping one to deal such potential. This is patently evident in the size of classrooms and the quality of mind too many teachers bring to the classroom. Few of the most thoughtful amongst us compete to become teachers. There is hardly any competition at all and there is hardly any reward for becoming a teacher and doing the good work that helps others grow up well. Teachers are not hired because they are thinkers and we at the College of Education do ever so little to help our students that they must be thinkers before they can ever have a chance of teaching well. In the courses taught here, at this College of Education, few are rigorous enough to help future teachers grow as thinkers who can understand basic principles of human existence such as those described in the Declaration of Independence and few know that the Declaration provides Americans the principles by which they need to be guided in their life if they are to do what human beings, fighting for full realization of their potential as human beings, must do.
So many of those who will become teachers were good students in a system that hardly at all asked them to question the information they received to get at the real meaning of the ideas contained in that material. Few rebelled and asked the kind of questions thoughtful human beings ask when presented with information someone is offering them. No one helped them understand that it is of critical importance to know who is providing information and what their motives might be. No one helped them to find biographical information on those who wrote the texts assigned and no one helped them to understand that the texts are not filled with facts but with information another may or may not understand to be fact, fact always translated through a mind that is the product of a biography that influence how that text writer sees the world and its events.
I leave without leaving many friends behind. The friends I once had at this institution have distanced themselves from me and there were never too many in the first place. I am not respected in the profession and the work I have done is of little importance to most. I probably do care; I am a human being. However, I find myself numb to my social situation, angry because we have yet to discuss in a meaningful way the reason for the shunning, the reason for the lack of any support for my right to be heard and influence policy here or in the school system. This College, and this university that houses this college, shut me out a long time ago and not because anyone cared to hear what I was saying, cared to give a moment of time to the possibility that what I was saying was the result of thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness that was generated by a set of principles that placed honesty and fairness and justice at the forefront and pushed me to allow myself to be a revolutionary, a revolutionary who knew the cost of trying to fight against the inertia that comes with careerism, that comes with concern for acceptance above concern for getting it right.
I do not know if I have gotten it right. I do know that I have made an honest effort to get it right so that I could do right even if this was not what was expected of me. I am ending this career on a very sour note and I know that many will see this note as a result of my being a sour person whose own fault it is for where he ended up. There has to be some truth in this. But, I can give it only so much credence because I have made every effort to have the conversation and have been banished from almost every conversation available here in the college and here at the university. I have been banished for speaking up, for asking uncomfortable questions, for questioning the unquestioned excellence of the institution and the quality of work of my fellow academics. I have asked at every chance to be involved in conversation about the purpose of the work here, the value of the work to the public that pays for the salaries and facilities that make the university a university. I have watched as people on this campus have lived through several wars, have lived through fiscal turmoil, have lived through what appears to be the empowerment of the few at the expense of the many.
I have watched as my colleagues have failed to take any responsibility for the wars, for the redistribution of a rich nation’s wealth to the wealthy who benefit at the expense of the poor, for the lack of real patriotism in the public to which they are responsible, such patriotism found in the strong desire of citizens to know and understand the realty surrounding them and to change that reality when it does not comport to what it would be if the union were perfect. Students across this campus are still being told rather than taught and those who are being taught to teach are being told what they should teach and how. They are not at all revolutionary in their thinking. They are hardly critical consumers of the information they receive. They rarely challenge what they are being told. They rarely think about the consequences of allowing themselves to be treated so and they allow democracy to slip away by being good students and good citizens, good in their passivity, good for their silent acceptance of what is too often bad for them and for all that exists on this planet.
I leave disappointed. I am disappointed in myself. I know not how to fight on and I have serious doubt as to whether the fight could ever have had an impact in a society where people are educated as they are here. Curiosity, imagination, critical thought, inquiry are all names for activities that necessitate education that involves individuals to engage in the making of meaning. As Paulo Freire has said, to discourage an individual to engage in honest inquiry is to do that person violence, to deny him or her their humanity. I have tried not to be a part of the violence but my revolutionary ways have always been viewed to be hurtful and my speaking up a form of intimidation.
I am no longer a member of the faculty and many will not see my leaving as a loss. Too many will be relieved to be rid of me. I cannot say that I will find relief in my leaving for I have done far too little to help change a rather vague but truly rotten agenda. I would say “so long suckers,” but I think I have been the sucker, sucked in a long time ago to the potential of education, a notion that had not a chance in hell to be realized because no one has the time or the resources to make it the new reality.