From the archives 1

A letter to colleagues to set me free to teach teachers how to be teachers in and for and of a democracy:Today’s meeting convinced me that the best thing I can do for those who are taught by the teachers I help to teach would be to move the English education program to the English department. The purpose of English as a secondary school discipline is something other than teaching basic literacy skills, or, better put, it is about teaching literacy skills that really are of significance to human beings who need to be able to figure out the meanings of messages sent them or messages discovered as a result of awareness of the fact that there are many involved in the making of meaning and the meanings made have varying degrees of effect on the decisions individuals make as individuals and as individuals participating in the decision making processes of the society. This is the type of literacy I understand to be a proper literacy and the literacy to which all of the teaching in every one of the disciplines should be dedicated, literacy that allows one to engage with the ideas that are relevant to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.Keeping the English education program in the College of Education works only to perpetuate a literacy that is poor literacy, a literacy that is about being told of things that are to be treated as valid and meaningful for no reason other than these things as one is told them constitute the right answers on tests, high stakes tests that are mechanisms of the kind of control a good education, a proper literacy would help to undermine.It is horrendous that what is wrong is so often what should be what is right and that so many of the educated cannot distinguish well one from the other. Here we are in a college that teaches other how to teach and how willing we are to teach them to teach what is wrong using methods that are wrong because some controlling force tells us that the right of good sense and good ethics is the wrong right.English allows students to study rebels and learn of the necessity of rebellion when others or another or institutions of government grow oppressive. From what I heard today, our real goal is conformity and teaching that enforces and reinforces the goodness of conformity. Our goal is to find ways to do what we are told to do and do it in ways that others will think that we are doing what we believe to be right. This is the most profound kind of bullshit request that can be made of anyone and here we are taking the request as if it is an irrefutable mandate, irrefutable because there are career and other kinds of consequences for acts that might be understood by those in control to be refutation of their mandates.Life in the English department may not be any better, but it may be and that at least allows for a ray of hope. Today’s meeting confirmed that things here are hopeless for there is no will to figure out how to do what is right, how to communicate to those who control that what they want, what they demand that we capitulate to is simply wrong. If we had integrity, we would never capitulate until convinced that what we were being asked to do was right and righteous. What I heard today is that we will do what we have to in order to get along, even if what we go along with is obnoxious and, yes, inhumane. One cannot take the tests to be valid as indicators of the quality of our teaching or the quality of the teachers who we send out into the schools to teach. But we will abide by assessment mandates that will have the effect of telling our students that the only good teaching they get in our program is the teaching that will aid them in teaching to the test.Utter bullshit in ways that are of a magnitude that is almost impossible to grasp, bullshit in regard to our obligations to the public for insuring that students learn what is necessary for good citizenship, good citizenship in a nation that demands that citizens are capable of making good decisions, decisions that are the product of engagement in the issues of the day, issues understood well in all their complexity through application of the concepts and skills learned in school to the problems those issues represent. Bullshit because the testing regime is not about testing problem solving abilities but about discovering whether or not students have been acclimated to the status quo, a status quo that there teachers try to convince them is the nature of reality, the only reality possible even if it is a reality that really does not serve their best interests, that does not reflect respect from those in power for the rights of individuals. And we perpetuate the bullshit by giving into a system that will punish us if we do not agree to mis-educate.I have tried everything I can to get a discussion going about what our goals should be but I think I have to admit now that that discussion will never take place because to participate in such a discussion would do real damage to egos and the careers that are so ego boosting. Well, my ego is damaged beyond repair and all I have left is a germ of integrity for I too have not done all that is necessary to resist the forces that push me in rotten and harmful directions. I have capitulated too and I think I understand the nature of my culpability in making the world, through education, something other than a better place for human beings.I said today that the best thing I can do is to do what will get me fired. I think this is true for all if by “best thing” we mean what is good for humanity, for the democratic society that we once pledged to uphold and grew up to believe was worth upholding because its principles were right and righteous. I do not think I will be fired today or tomorrow and that by getting fired I should mean that I do what is necessary to do what is right and in doing what is right piss off those who have right wrong. Perhaps going to the English department and doing so by ratting out on what is rotten in the present system, the system that is the College of Education system, I help to move things along to something better. There seems to be little desire in the COE to do what is necessary to be participants in making things better. Maybe there is concern for better elsewhere and that I do my students service by seeing if the possibility for better is there.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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