The life of a university professor is not a particularly difficult one. After 13 years of college and enough student loans to purchase a small suburban home I’ve earned the right to make my own schedule, teach courses in my field of expertise, and work on projects that interest me. EduSanity is one of those projects. The writing I do here is a result of my role as an advocate for public education. In addition to this blog, I write editorial pieces, conduct scholarly research on the effects of CCSS implementation, give talks, and teach a class on Reclaiming the Conversation on Education. My professional life is pretty great when compared with the vast majority of people in the world.
However, the life of a public school advocate can take a toll on you in a unique way. I am constantly bombarded with negativity towards public schools, public school teachers, and public school students every single day of my life. Constantly, you ask? Pretty much. I work to confront this negativity using the outlets at my disposal, but in the grand scheme of things I feel quite impotent compared with those who have millions of dollars (Bill Gates) or unprecedented government power (Arne Duncan).
1. lacking power or ability.
2. utterly unable (to do something).
3. without force or effectiveness.
Yesterday was a particularly impotent day. I describe the events of yesterday here, not to complain, but to give the readers of EduSanity a window into the constant negativity that surrounds public educators who fight the corporate take over of our public schools. Nothing that follows is exaggerated, and it did indeed occur in my world yesterday.
Wednesday 10/24/13 – Fayetteville, Arkansas
6:00 – Wake up and head to the gym. While working out, obsess over a “social studies” test your oldest son brought home the other day that is really a literacy test with one token social studies question thrown in at the end. Plan future EduSanity post in your head about the death of social studies and citizenship due to NCLB and CCSS.
7:30 – 8:00 Check email and find link to Education Week article about the rise in demand for testing products, services and companies due to CCSS. Wonder why Americans seem content to sit back and watch corporations make hundreds of millions of dollars testing the bejeezus out of their children despite the lack of evidence that testing does anything to improve education. Find another email from colleague and fellow public school advocate Julian Heilig with a link to a blog post describing how Congress slipped a provision into the recent debt ceiling compromise to make sure Teach For America is still legally able to place unqualified teachers in schools while turning enormous profits and calling it “civil rights”. Consider writing another blog post about the newest Republican strategy of taking elected officials with brown skin (Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal) and having them push corporate reforms (charter schools, vouchers), calling them “civil rights battles” despite the fact that research shows these reforms actually lead to more segregation, not less. Give up that idea because you’ve got other work to do.
8:00 – 9:00 Head over to one of your local coffee shop “offices” to work on a couple of social studies education article manuscripts that actually count towards tenure and promotion. Put off writing blog post you planned during morning workout while thinking about how accountability narrows the scope of what people do, whether it’s teachers giving up social studies to focus on tested subjects or professors giving up public advocacy to focus on traditional scholarship. Note the irony and hypocrisy in your choice.
9:00 – 9:10 Exchange emails with a friend and former colleague who is a P.E. teacher in the district you used to teach in. Shake your head as he tells you that his district now requires him to spend a significant amount of his physical education class time READING. Wonder what happened to the childhood obesity epidemic we hear so much about. Chuckle to yourself as you think about what would happen if body fat composition tests were a part of NCLB and teachers would actually be held accountable for how healthy their kids were. Hope Obama and Duncan haven’t had this idea. Stop laughing at the possibility that they have.
10:00 – 10:15 Run into another friend at the coffee shop whose spouse teaches social studies in a nearby district. Find out more about how that district arbitrarily decided to take middle school students out of social studies classes in order to fill sections of a technology course that was funded by a grant. Tamp down righteous indignation that parents weren’t even consulted before their children were completely removed from a core subject area. Turn attention back to social studies education manuscripts and wonder if you are wasting your career by conducting scholarly research on how students think and learn about History when many schools clearly don’t give a damn if they learn it at all.
10:16 – 10:20 Distract yourself from negative thoughts by playing some Candy Crush on your phone. Remain stuck on level 275 for another day and curse those little candies for contributing to your lousy morning. Vow to never play again. Go back on that vow 10 minutes later.
11:30 – 12:00 Drive over to your sons’ school for the yearly “Dad’s Lunch” (a.k.a. reason to get you to book fair). Eat with your boys and a couple of kids from the 2nd grade football team you coach. Best part of your day.
12:00 – 12:30 Help your sons pick out some new books at school book fair. Pause as a parent makes a beeline for you and professes her hate for CCSS because the third grade district assessments aligned with the future PARCC assessment for CCSS are not developmentally appropriate. Listen to her description of how our schools have essentially boiled the teaching of literacy down to a series of assessments that require 8 year olds to read non-fiction about various topics (sea turtles, sharks, tornados… etc) and write two paragraph essays comparing what they learned. Discuss how even fiction has been reduced to reading books and writing two paragraph essays comparing the books’ settings (or other text feature). Wonder how teachers can possibly inspire children to read when they are required by their common lesson plans to turn a work of fiction into a routine deconstruction of an arbitrary text feature rather than a literary experience. Send this parent a link to a column you recently wrote with your EduSanity colleague for English Journal that compares the CCSS to a list of corporate specifications for products brought to market. Ask her if she’s surprised that the CCSS are not developmentally appropriate since they were written by fewer than 60 people, all of which were testing company employees, government officials or educational entrepreneurs. They wouldn’t know developmental appropriateness if it punched them in the eye.
12:30 – 2:00 Continue work on aforementioned social studies education manuscripts. Think about becoming a lounge singer.
2:00 – 3:00 Take an hour off and justify it by telling yourself you have class tonight. Watch the latest episode of Walking Dead on your DVR. Wonder if it will take an apocalyptic disaster to return local control to schools. Sigh as you realize that the only survivors of a nuclear war or zombie apocalypse would be cockroaches and Arne Duncan. Console yourself by using the Walking Dead app on your phone to turn Duncan and Michelle Rhee into zombies.
3:00 – 3:30 Try to watch a recent episode of Homeland that’s also on your DVR. Turn show off quickly when Carrie Mathison’s freak out over a giant CIA conspiracy sounds a little too much like your own freak outs over education reform.
3:30 – 4:00 Meet with local elementary school teacher who tells you that lessons and assessments in her district are planned by a small cabal of instructional facilitators at the district office who send out units to the teachers that they are not allowed to deviate from regardless of whether or not they are designed to meet the specific needs of their students. Her district is one of those who confuses common standards with common teaching. Hear about the fiction and poetry units she can no longer teach because CCSS requires her to spend time teaching 9 year-olds to write professional emails instead. Wonder if the proclamation of CCSS mastermind David Coleman that nobody gives a shit about how you feel in the real world also includes 4th grade.
3:31 – 3:35 Receive an email while walking out of meeting with elementary school teacher from the Chronicle of Higher Education informing you that Obama’s nominee for U.S. Undersecretary of Education is a Bill Gates education reform flunky with no background in education prior to buying his way into running an educational-venture fund. That’s right, the next Undersecretary of Education is a guy who makes a fortune by taking your tax money to turn a profit while undermining public education. Wonder if Obama actually understands how his nominations and policies are classist, racist and based on the failed notion that accountability and privatization will cure all of our nation’s educational problems. Curse yourself again for voting for that sellout twice.
3:35 – 4:45 Re-read chapters 15-20 of Diane Ravitch’s new book Reign of Error for the graduate course you teach this semester. Wish that every American would read Dr. Ravitch’s thoughtful dissection of Teach for America, Charter Schools, Vouchers and the fraud known as Michelle Rhee.
5:00 – 5:30 Dinner with the family. Hear about oldest son’s latest compare and contrast essay. Wonder if life will eventually cease to exist beyond the analysis level of Bloom’s taxonomy.
6:00 – 9:00 Teach graduate course on qualitative research methods. Make the unwise decision at the end of class to get dragged into tangential argument with student/local administrator about the need for NCLB and standardized tests in order to hold teachers “accountable” for closing the achievement gap. Try to make case that we don’t need the federal government to hold teachers accountable for something that should be done at the local school district or building level. Do really poor job making argument because you are tired of your role as public school advocate for the day.
9:15 – Get home to find stiff drink waiting for you on kitchen counter with supportive wife/bartender ready to let you rant about your day. Rant goes something like this
11:15 - Go to bed and prepare for similar experiences tomorrow.
At the end of the day, my professional experiences are better than most, but as somebody who has dedicated his life and career to public school education, it is tough to face this sort of negativity day after day. There are times that I’ve thought seriously about giving up this struggle by retreating into the ivory tower of academia and pretending as though the corporate takeover of public schools isn’t happening. Many of my colleagues in K-12 schools and universities across the country are doing exactly that. However, there are too many teachers and students out there who need advocates like me on their side, even though the odds are stacked in favor of big money and big government. Hopefully someday it will make a difference.