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From the Archives 9

I once had a paper rejected by the publication The English Journal because, the editor said, it was very well written, it was too critical of teachers. The following is my reflection on why the rejection rationale so angered me.My little riff with NCTE has been predicated on the notion that I am somehow unappreciative of teachers, that my words hurt those who struggle hard to do well by students under oppressive conditions. Indeed, teachers do work under oppressive conditions and the best of teachers suffer the worst for that oppression because they are regularly prevented from doing what they know is good for students. These are the thoughtful teachers, the teachers who are so thoughtful in their lives that they understand the importance and the rough-edged joy of being thoughtful, the joy of knowing and the satisfaction derived from struggling mindfully to get meaning from the things they encounter, to do what is necessary to get as close to the truth of things as they can so that their decisions are based on something other than the dictates of others, on ideologies or guide books for living. So engaged in the process of getting the meanings of life, of getting at those meanings, they know implicitly that one cannot hand another what they achieve through the work of thinking, that what they achieve is an personal achievement, the achievement of an individual, a unique being with a unique mind that processes the universe in unique ways and, for it, has both the right and obligation to share what is discovered and be heard by others for the sake of the growth of individuals and the human race.What bothers me about teachers is that teachers remain oppressed, the nature of their work so often frustrated by those who want them to teach only what those others wish to have taught. Teachers are too regularly controlled by forces that sensible people would never give in to, never agree with, never work for if they had a choice. The result of capitulation, of willingness to work within the boundaries of what is allowed is a school system that has and continues to be influenced by those who are for control rather than liberation, truly unpatriotic people who fail purposely to understand the tenants of democratic society, results in a citizenry that, to a large degree, opts out of the decision making process of democracy, often because people are convinced that they do not understand things well enough, not as well as certain authorities who they become dependent upon for the truth about things.The existence of “news” outlets such as Fox and MSNBC, amongst the most popular of “news” media entities, rarely report news; instead they digest the news and pass on the “truths” derived to those who watch and listen to know what they should think. And this parallels the process of education as it is manifest in this democratic society, teachers the receivers of digested materials in the form of textbooks and teacher’s guides, resource kits and media extras but conduits for stuff someone else, corporate producers of educational materials, want others to think of as knowledge. Curricula are built around the materials available and students learn what the books contain without even being asked to discuss who produced the stuff or why, what biases might exist in the material and its presentation, or whether or not their own experiences tell them that the stuff they with which they are confronted makes sense or not.Recently, a group of teachers made news by refusing to teach to a curriculum that a particularly conservative school board was going to make them teach. Students joined in the protest and this was a most wonderful thing, all involved making a statement of being fed someone else’s bullshit, someone else’s warped world view disguised as proper knowledge with the proviso that teachers not encourage questioning of the truths students were to be fed, no skeptics, no critique, no criticism.This was a radical moment, a radical move for both protagonists and antagonists, the school board willing to be blatant in its desire to use schools for spreading unadulterated propaganda, the students and teachers making a radical move in resisting the dictums of the wacko school board.What is troubling to me is that such protests, refusals to accept bullshit as wisdom, is so rare that the Colorado teachers and students have come to be seen as special, special enough to get the kind of attention they are getting. And the attention is deserved because such response to bullshit is a rarity, too many teachers going along with the mandates that are regularly issued for the purpose of controlling people, their thought, their teaching, and what is learned for purposes that are anything but good and wholesome and in the least bit for democracy. What angers me, though I understand, I think, the reasons for teachers accepting the role of purveyors of someone else’s bullshit, it is difficult to accept acceptance as a sensible way to respond to what so many tell me they outright, and rightly so, hate, being told what to do by people whose agenda is not one that has anything to do with liberation of human minds, the development of truly critical thinkers who can assess the trappings of their world and come to sensible conclusions regarding what stuff means so that they can made sensible decisions that lead to right action.We, educators, have lived forever, it seems, with the dictates of idiots and done their work without much public outcry. The history of the Texas schools textbook committees and the Gablers, true lunatics, and the power they have wielded over the content of the materials used to teach in most schools in this country should cause any sensible and well intended teacher to protest on a daily basis and that protest could come in the form of discussion about how the texts and other materials from which they are being made to get their information are created, by whom, and for what purposes.The effects of teachers’ willingness to go along with the program are so transparently evident in the society our educational system has done so much to help create that only the blind would not be aware of them. But blind are most to critical aspects of our history, of the means by which science produces its theories, and why the findings of science are held as theory rather than truth, how truths are derived from the kinds of inquiry that allow one to get somewhat closer to truth, but really never to absolute truth, how people in democracies are obligated to constantly work toward truth, test things for their truthfulness and base decisions on the best truths available based on good information and its processing into something that can stand as knowledge until whenever.

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