Monday, December 12, 2016

Cowards In Education

Brian G. Fay - December 13, 2016

A week ago I read March - Book 1, John Lewis’s story of the Civil Rights movement. I read books 2 and 3 today and was struck by the bravery of all who marched and the hatred and fear of their attackers. The savagery shown in the graphic novel was staggering. I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like in person.

The whole thing reminds me of what is today after November’s election. People are coming to overturn what we hold dear in this country. The person we elected is unconcerned with the Constitution, human rights, or tradition. I see in the pages of the graphic novel the historic nature of President Barack Obama’s election and am revolted by how far backward the 2016 election has already sent us.

There is a moment in Book 3 on page 159 when two teachers discuss whether or not to join the marches. One is afraid that they will be fired. The other says, “If we’re not in the classroom, then the kids’ll be out in the streets — probably protesting too. Besides, how can we teach American civics when we can’t vote?!” They agree to march.

I would like to say teachers would do the same today, but I don’t believe we would. We public school teachers are, on the whole, a cowed bunch, well-behaved followers dead set against rocking the boat. We talk about civic duty but make no waves. We allow the state to punish students with testing that gets in the way of teaching, curriculum that waters down almost every subject, and ludicrous ideas such as literature having no place in the English curriculum. We go along even with APPR, a rating system that crushes good teachers, produces teacher shortages (young people know a bad profession when they see it), and sends our best teachers into early retirement or new careers.

None of this will get better after the election. The conditions in public schools will deteriorate as will the general conditions for ordinary Americans.

Will teachers stand up? I doubt it.

I’ve been in a public school teacher for 22 years. I’ve read the pedagogy of the 60s and 70s and it has nothing to do with the political apathy of 21st century teaching. We are not revolutionaries. We aren’t even progressives. We are instruments of whomever is in charge and we are cowards when it comes to standing up for ourselves, our students, or our community. I say “we” because I’m scared I might get fired, scared I’ll be APPR-ed out of a job, scared someone will notice me.

But enough is enough.

I will not show the inauguration in class. If asked, I’ll say I can’t support the person taking the oath. My classroom will be one centered on compassion, literature, the study of history, and protection of the meek against the mighty. And when the march happens, I will educate my students about the issues and urge them to stand up for democracy, the republic, and for the words of Lady Liberty which stand in opposition to these new overlords coming to power: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

And like that great statue, I will stand up even if it makes it all the more likely that someone will come to try and strike me down. I’m ready to march.