Friday, March 30, 2012

Drunken Educator


I want to have something interesting and unique to say about schools. Seems to me as though most everything is being said, but none of the things I'm finding are speaking to the exact thing that I have in mind. Well, other than James Herndon, but then he always says not only the things that I'm thinking but also all the things I wish I had said. I've been considering just typing his book Notes from a Schoolteacher into this blog 750 words at a time because he had it all right back in 1985 when, it seems, the same ill winds were blowing through education.

Still, there has to be something for me to say. I've been at this for seventeen years which seems a good enough time to have amassed some sort of wisdom about this stuff. The hard part about it for me is trying to write persuasively, passionately, but not angrily. That's hard for me because I'm so very angry about the way things are going in education, the way things are going at my job, and the way policy is being determined across the nation. While Herndon seems to be able to speak eloquently and with grace and humor, I tend to sound shrill and peevish. That's not a tone that tends to change people's minds.

If I could put the problem into a simple thesis statement perhaps this would all come together for me. A friend suggested that I boil down my thinking about education to two pages. That's a good idea and were I calmer man more in possession of himself, I would do just that. I think the thing would start as a twenty-three page document and I would cut it down from there. I'm just not sure to whom I would show it after I had finished writing.

My therapist says that I'm still in a bit of a mid-life moment. I told her that I think I've been in that phase of my life for something like twenty-five years. I don't know how to be the man I have a feeling I'm supposed to be. Take teaching for example. I'm a good classroom teacher. I'm not the greatest at it and I'm nowhere near the worst. But my heart isn't in being a great classroom teacher. I want to do something more.

At my first full-time job interview, the assistant superintendent asked me where I saw myself in ten years. That was easy. I told him, "in you job." Then I told him why I wanted that job, what I wanted to do, and it was shortly after that they hired me. I told him that I want to shape decision making in education. I want to be a person who creates policy and makes things happen. I still want to be that guy, but I don't want to be the assistant superintendent of a suburban school. That job sounds so mundane and managerial to me that I cringe at the thought of it.

Instead, I want to be in a job where I write about learning, teaching, and the ways in which schools work and don't work. I want to be working at re-setting policy and getting people to understand that the best schools are designed by the people who work in them. In my dream world, I'm the guy who keeps the people at the top of the school food-chain from ever interfering with the people who do the real work. In the comic-book world of my dreams I would be spiriting people like Arne Duncan away to islands where they could never be heard from again. After a while there would be a crowd of administrators and policy makers hopelessly lost on that island drawing up plans for a shelter that someone else would build someday.

My wife, God love her, wants me to be made education secretary. The only problem is that the first thing I would do is to dissolve the department of education. Okay, that would be the second thing. The first thing would be to dissolve the state boards of education and then dissolve the department of ed. After that, I think I would take some time off and travel. What else would there be to do?

I'm not sure if I've come off as angry or just looney here. Either way, it's probably because I had two lime vodkas on the rocks at dinner and it's bedtime for me. I have to get up early and read some more Herndon. Maybe I'll compose a couple pages about my education philosophy. That or plot my take over and destruction of the temple of the Department of Education. It could go either way. And either way, I'll write on.