“When I began teaching I felt isolated in a hostile environment. The structure of authority in my school was clear: the principal was at the top and the students were at the bottom. Somewhere in the middle was the teacher, whose role it was to impose orders from textbooks or supervisors upon the students. The teacher’s only protection was that if students failed to obey instructions they could legitimately be punished or, if they were defiant, suspended or kicked out of school. There was no way for students to question the teachers’ decisions or for teachers to question the decisions of their supervisors or authors of textbooks and teachers’ manuals…
“There is the same obsession with power and discipline everywhere; for most American children there is essentially one public school system in the United States and it is authoritarian and oppressive. Students everywhere are deprived of the right to make choices concerning their own destinies.
“The authoritarian environment of the school I taught at encouraged a collusive atmosphere in which everyone except the students pretended that the school was functioning smoothly and efficiently and that the teachers were “doing a good job.” It was not proper to talk about troubles or admit failures.”
These are words from Herbert Kohl’s 1969 book The Open Classroom: A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching.
Apologies to Herbert Kohl for seducing such a large chunk of his writing from long ago to make a point regarding what is happening now but maybe he won’t mind.
I just wrote a series of posts to my Facebook page regarding the fact that the school district in which the college of education where I taught (and fought) for twenty-eight years has as the person who guides teaching in the English-language arts, is celebrating affiliation with Springboard, a tentacle of the College Board that is now producing teacher-proof, scripted curricula for the teaching of English.
When I left my position as an English educator at the University of Nevada, Reno, I left because I was mistreating my students—who would become English teachers—by convincing them (on occasion) that to teach English (or anything else for that matter) one had to be very good at what they were teaching if they were to teach it well. So, I would make clear, to be a good English teacher, one had to be able to read in such a way as good readers would read, to a depth of understanding that would allow one to converse confidently, if good fortune allowed such, with the authors of the works being read. To be a good teacher of writing, I said, a teacher had to write well.
Of course, in the context of the schools where most of my students would be teaching, none of this was true because plenty of teacher’s aids would be made available and the expectations for teaching would be such that a teacher teaching from the teacher’s manual and using the materials that came with the textbooks would be able to succeed.
What I was teaching was how to teach for critical literacy and to teach for critical literacy is not so simple as copying lessons from the supposed experts in the field. To teach critical literacy, I knew, a teacher had to engage students in the kind of discussion that necessitated critical thought, deep reading of the texts that were being studied, such thought and kind of reading nothing that could be published in textbooks or teacher’s manuals because real critical reading, by its very definition, would have to produce original thought.
And now, the next step in the devolution of English in the local school district, is nothing other than a scripted curriculum, Springboard by name, a teacher’s aid that allows teachers to teach to critical abilities such as critical thinking and its concomitant, critical reading, without the teacher having to be able to do any of what he or she is being asked to teach. The teacher is relegated to a delivery system for someone else’s methods, for which, by the way, the district will pay good amounts of money for license to use. And all will be happy because it will seem that all is going efficiently well.
And efficiency is what counts though, what is intentionally being misunderstood is that efficient is efficient only if the result of efficiency is something that is at least adequately good. And when it comes to such things as critical thinking and critical literacy, efficient isn’t necessarily clean and orderly, chapter by chapter, verse by verse because, goddamnit, real people are thinking real thoughts and those thoughts are their own and not somebody elses’.
“The structure of authority in my school was clear: the principal was at the top and the students were at the bottom. Somewhere in the middle was the teacher, whose role it was to impose orders from textbooks or supervisors upon the students.” (Stolen from the stolen quotation at the head of this piece).
With buy-in to such teaching devises as Springboard do what I say and do not ask questions means of teaching critical thought and critical thinking will become acceptable because the tests that will test for critical thought and critical literacy will be those devised by the very people who created Springboard. Springboard intelligence will be the goal of the English teacher who abides by the dictums of those in authority and they will do so without questioning the goodness of what they are being told to do because they will be told by those telling them what to do that they are doing the right thing and doing it well.
Pathetically hollow, but programmed to be effective in an efficient sort of way.
For those who care to think for themselves and do so to the point that they know the value of doing so, think Bob Marley and not Springboard. Read critically, think deeply….
Ey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Preacher man, don’t tell me
Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth
It’s not all that glitters is gold
Half the story has never been told
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights