Teachers Are Bad, M’kay?

There’s a new PR battle going on in town (really, across the nation). It involves spoiled teachers and their thuggish unions and how lazy and selfish they are.

Or at least these are the facts as we’re presented them via administrators who are in charge of education but don’t have to deal with anything actually related to education – classrooms, learning, small wages for incredible amounts of work, students, parents, or first-hand appreciation for the adverse effects of poverty on the charges.

Rather, this group tries to remember what didn’t work when they were in school (or really, what worked well for them, specifically, but left others marginalized and labeled ‘special’ and “stupid”) and then amp that to eleven.

Finding out that they could put the onus of the responsibility of failing poor and minority students on the teachers while neglecting fundamental structural cracks and necessary changes, leaders and admins also found that they could score political points by portraying teachers as layabouts who are afraid of accountability. After all, if there’s nothing to hide, then there’s nothing to fear, amirite?

President Bush gave the best soundbite, of course. “If you’re teaching to the test, at least you’re teaching something, right?”

It’s a shame very few really questioned the intents and inferred meaning of that phrase. While seeming to be helpful and concerned about the state of underserved st’s, the teaching-to-the-test rhetoric proves the priority of the standardized test as both a means of production (something to profit from) and as an end- product itself. It further demonstrates how out of touch admins and pols are with how learning actually works.

Finally, it’s an incendiary accusation against teachers: Teaching poorly is better than not teaching at all.

Which may not be a true assessment even if it were a true accusation. Teaching poorly has a poor reputation of discouraging further learning. Kids demand education. If they were to learn that it only added up to meaningless bubbles about some worthless and irrelevant questions that were drilled into them through most of the school year, then of course they’d find it all ridiculous and worthless.

Wouldn’t you?

And that’s exactly what’s happening. Rather than find and apply meaningful and relevant curriculum, inner city grade schools are under enormous pressure to succeed according to the rubrics of test-makers and their arbitrary questions. Ironically, the more time spent trying to prepare students for these standardized tests, the less time is left to teach the students critical (and critical-thinking) skills.

Image from Off K Street blog

So, while the proposed idea is “no child (especially poor and minority) left behind”, the reality is that the education gap is widening. Instead of equipping young black Americans to succeed in the business world,
we are only preparing them for a life of meaningless and humiliating bubble-filling and questions.

Meanwhile, politicians and their education ‘czars’ (who usually have no actual experience in education or the classroom) are leveraging the widening gap as a means of reigning in teachers and destroying whatever power they’ve been able to amass these last few decades.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Chicago. Mayors Daley and now Emanuel have been gutting the public schools for over a decade now, flying against the face of research and the frontline workers to make some quick bucks for friends while looking good, tough, challenging, and moral in the process.

But, as Ben Joravski notes at the Chicago Reader, it’s largely an image battle. And that is one that the teachers – shockingly – are losing. As long as teachers remain shocked at the shift of public opinion against them, however, they’ll continue to lose this front.

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One thought on “Teachers Are Bad, M’kay?

  1. I am a teacher (currently on sabbatical) with a great deal of pride in the work I have done in Finland (world leader in education) that I can just about live off of there. But there too the adages hold true: Teaching is the profession which is most vocally criticized by those who would not dream of doing it themselves; and finding an assessment rubric for teacher performance that does less harm than good to the quality of the work being done is far easier said than done. I would argue that the one thing which the Finnish school system has most done right is to make philosophy a required subject in high school (together with psychology and either religious education or ethics). Putting in a specific course which teaches critical thinking as well as the theoretical foundations for determining what counts as moral behavior gives students a tool kit to carry around to other subject lectures, helping them to engage more thoroughly with the material and ultimately do better on the standardized tests as well. For an extremely verbose treatment of the matter, see: http://huisjenphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/the-case-for-secondary-school-philosophy/

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