343. Failure, Crisis, and Death

There was a list of required and suggested books for introductory education courses at Beloit College when I started taking such courses. Heading the list were such titles as How Children Fail (by John Holt), Crisis in the Classroom (by Charles Silverman), and Death at an Early Age (by Jonathan Kozol). These titles alone were enough to make one wonder whether there was any hope for schools. And a little further down the list was De-schooling Society (by Ivan Ilyich).
So we weren’t being given the impression that things were hunky-dory in schools. Veteran teachers – people who had been in charge of the “failure,” “crisis,” and “death” for years, must have felt a little threatened by the new wave of teachers invading from the colleges. And some of us invaders felt that at least some of the old-timers must have been doing it all wrong, and that we were going to repair the damage they’d done. We weren’t going to learn from the veterans, because then we’d be “copping out” – becoming part of the problem when we wanted to be part of the solution. So to some degree, experienced teachers were right to feel threatened.
But we weren’t going to stay newcomers forever, so if there was a new way that was better, we’d better put up or shut up. We were eventually going to become the Establishment. We were going to be superintendents, principals, and veteran teachers. There would be younger teachers joining us soon, and maybe they would see us as the status quo to be overcome.
Some rebels stayed out of the public schools. Some tried the public schools and then left, either voluntarily or otherwise. Of the ones of us who stayed, some seemed to surrender to the system, some to compromise, and some to keep up the fight.
I like to think that if Holt, Silverman, Kozol, or Ilyich saw me at work, I’d get good reviews. Maybe. But maybe one of them would show up at the wrong time, when I was helping a child do a worksheet that was mindless and irrelevant. On
the other hand, they all became writers, not public school teachers, so who are they to criticize?
Well, now I’m a writer, too. Some of what I see teachers doing bothers me, and it inspires me to write some articles (not mentioning names or giving telling details). Some of it gives me hope; teachers do or say things that make it seem as if they’re going to be part of the solution. I feel as if I’m a little less of a rebel, but I think that may be because we rebels have some power now, and we can affect what happens. In many schools there are no more basal readers, and writing is taught with more emphasis on content. So maybe we’ve triumphed a little. But let’s watch ourselves. We can get used to parts of the system we intended to change – parts that deserve to be changed. If the system is paying our bills, we can gradually become part of the problem.

Comments are closed.