Teachers are the most regulated professionals in the United States. In the classroom, on the train, at the supermarket and on facebook, a teacher’s every action will be judged in the light of their profession. Much of it is necessary, since we are entrusted with other peoples’ children and paid by their tax dollars. But too much of it is downright ridiculous. Now a teacher in Chicago is under investigation for showing clips of the Daily Show in his class. A few weeks ago, a teacher in New Jersey was fired for posting that she felt like she was teaching “future criminals” on her facebook wall. In a 21st culture which entails a deluge of sex, violence, drugs and crime via our media outlets, teacher standards of morality are stuck in 17th century Salem. Teachers are held to standards that most other people refuse to countenance for themselves. I remember one day the super of my old apartment building yelled at me for knocking down a “Wet Paint” sign that I did not knock down at all. In return, I very snidely told him off, which caused him to mutter under his breath “some f***ing role model you are!”. This was a man with two young daughters who obviously never thought of his own duty as a role model. This is the type of everyday judgment and double-standard that drains on the personal life of a teacher. Our human and vulnerable moments are either judged by hypocrites or used as grounds for termination by petty and vindictive administrators. This type of sanctimonious repression is only killing our education system.
All teachers, high school teachers especially, deal in a world of ideas. In fact, I believe that the public school classroom is the single most important forum of ideas in the United States. For many of our kids, it is the only place they can get exposed to substantial intellectual discussions. It is one of the few places left that can offer a refuge from the vultures in corporate media out to destroy their attention spans and imaginations. A child’s encounter with the world of ideas should be free for them to take risks and encourage their greed to know more. Unfortunately, it is impossible for teachers to do this. We are in the most repressed profession on earth. All of our topics must be safe, non-controversial and insipid. Our methods must not embarrass or make students feel bad in any way. While no teacher should make it a point to be controversial or demeaning, knowledge itself sometimes gets at topics of controversy. Discussing something as American as racism is a potential pipe bomb, yet it is vital to an understanding of America. Children certainly will not get an honest race discussion from our media and it is just as unlikely that they will hunt down intelligent discussions of it online. The schools are the only places where they might potentially have a real discussion about race. But teachers are so scared of the fallout that they tend to stick with the saccharine clichés of “tolerance” and “diversity”. The list goes on. Not only racism but poverty, sexism, homophobia, religion and a slew of entirely relevant issues are either ignored or made totally vacuous by us overly regulated teachers. Something as open, free, elegant and glorious as unadulterated knowledge is maimed when it is entrusted to an institution as myopic, hypocritical and reactionary as our public school system.
We are the only professionals who get bossed around by non-professionals. Mayor Bloomberg, the education researchers and the wealthy charter school leeches have not educated one class of students between them, yet they foist their half-baked schemes for reform on us. All of them justify their schemes in the name of the “children”. Want to sound like the good guy? Tell them you are doing this for the “children”. Mayor Bloomberg apparently puts “children first….. always”. The education researchers fall over themselves to prove that their lame methods are better for the children. The wealthy charter school liars claim they provide quality education to underprivileged children. But “children” are their least concern. Bloomberg has not bothered to improve the neighborhoods from which these children come, being more concerned with taxing cigarettes and painting bicycle lanes in gutters. The education researchers do not concern themselves with what type of impact constantly changing their methods might have on the kids who have to suffer through those constant changes. The wealthy corporatists who build charter schools because they care so much for underprivileged children do not actually provide any jobs or services in the communities that keep those children underprivileged. The proof is in the pudding. If any of these people cared about “children”, we would not have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the world. The collective money and brain power of these smart, wealthy people could have saved these children they care so much about decades ago.
No, it is not children they care about, it is schooling. All of them, every single one, get lots of money and power if they have a slice of our public schooling system. That is what everything comes down to. They only use the name of the “children” because they know the general public eats that up. They have to repress teachers because we are the ones who do the schooling. If we feel empowered like actual professionals, their “reforms” go nowhere and they do not get the money and influence they seek. It is a power play and it has never been anything more than a power play.
I have been teaching for 12 years, knowing that I will always be paid less than peers with my same level of education. 12 years, despite the fact that I have no more job security thanks to Bloomberg’s reforms. 12 years of working every minute of the school year, writing lessons, doing research, making units, grading papers, improving my craft. 12 years of being judged and spied on by hypocrites.
And not once did I ever say I do it for the “children”