Trust me, the last place you want to be in late July/early August is the District of Columbia.
It’s hot and sticky, with a haze that saps you of your dignity as you drench through layers of clothing. The huge, wide boulevards leave little, if any, shade for comfort. Hilly neighborhoods outside Downtown turn a sidewalk stroll into the Bataan Death March.
And don’t look to the Metro subway system for relief; the genius who laid out the stations made it so that everything’s at least a half-mile from each station—just enough to sweat through your shorts and overpower the trains with the stench of ego mixed with misplaced ambition.
I should know: after years in college, numerous weekends, Fourths of July, and an abominable summer without air conditioning, I pretty much have DC clocked.
Which makes it even crazier that I’m heading there in late July to participate in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.
My colleagues think I’m nuts. My girlfriend, Future Mrs. D, is convinced I went off the deep end. My parents are convinced I’ll pass out after the first half hour sitting in the sun on the Ellipse.
Despite the naysayers, I’m going. The reasons are numerous: the Declaration of Independence, the need for an educated electorate, the systematic raping of education by pseudo-reformers that care little, if anything, about the future of our democracy.
Yet funny enough, the most important reason is Joe DiMaggio.
When the Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season, a Sporting News reporter had asked him the reason why he was hanging it up. DiMaggio could’ve given any number of excuses: his constant pain, the lack of pop in his legs and his bat, the years of hard fielding taking their toll.
Instead, he gave the best response I ever heard, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game…”
After so many years and all the headaches, baseball became a job. Like Joe D, I’m starting to feel that our game, our sport, the education of American children, is no fun anymore.
Like so many educators who will be in attendance in July, I love—absolutely love—educating children. For me, opening minds to the challenges and achievements of history, government, economics, even exploring maps gives me a rush similar to hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium.
Even with the headaches, the paperwork, the bullshit, teaching was never much of a grind—it was genuinely fun.
However, I can see the handwriting on the wall—words like, “accountability”, “data-driven instruction”, “quality reviews”, “peer assessment” and so on. These things are not terrorizing, per se. Yet when they are applied in a manner that undermines the purpose of American education, these words rob our profession of the joy, the excitement, the fun that it had.
Education is no fun anymore when meaningful debates, projects, skits and the like must be shelved for Dickensian workhouses of test preparation.
Education is no fun anymore when subjects are tossed aside in the curriculum simply because their results can’t be boiled down to numbers that fit into a nice chart or graph.
Education is no fun anymore when the tasks that measure authentic progress—reading, writing and math skills needed for college and beyond—are shunted for half-baked tests that simply measure how children digest the buzzwords du jour.
Education is no fun anymore when teachers must put aside the most challenging and exciting parts of their curriculum, not because they can’t do their job, but simply in fear of their jobs in order to produce higher test scores like widgets in a factory.
Education is no fun anymore when students, teachers, and administrators are left holding the bag while the corporate dunderheads, ed-policy dingdongs, and government hacks get off Scott-free when their latest half-assed silver-bullet theory of achievement falls flat on its face.
Education is no fun anymore when teachers, parents and administrators are set to fighting each other—and among each other—while the ed-reform puppet masters systematically strip public education bare.
Education is no fun when generations of students leave high school ready to do one thing: answer questions on a test.
They will not understand the meaning of why “all men are created equal.”
They will not understand the importance and fragility of our “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
They will not be able to participate in a government that is “instituted among men,” nor will they be able to adequately serve as the “consent of the governed.”
Lastly—and this makes Eli Broad, Gates, and the Koch brothers giddy—these students will not realize it when “any form of government becomes destructive of these ends.” Furthermore, no one would’ve informed them that “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it (government), and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
If these people have their way, we will have students that can read, write, do arithmetic, bubble answers and give simple written responses on a test. You may recognize them: the well-scrubbed, scripted and compliant students in places like China and Singapore that these bozos love.
But we will not have thinkers, builders, innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, artists, writers, intellectuals, or leaders.
We will no longer have the type of people that built this country. We will no longer have the type of people that made our democracy better, stronger and more inclusive through the centuries.
In short, we will no longer have Americans.
Not only is the educrat establishment robbing American education of its fun, but also of its purpose: to create educated, thinking citizens as active members of our republic.
The current attack on education is not simply an attack on public schools, teachers and students. It is an attack on the very essence of America.
That is why I am marching—sweating and uncomfortable, but marching nonetheless. Like the Minutemen of yore, thousands of educators like me will be carrying our voices and bodies as proverbial muskets against the imperial onslaught.
Join me and others at the Ellipse this July 30. Lets make a clear message to President Obama, Arne Duncan and the rest of the “reformers” that American democracy cannot continue without a valuable public education—and their actions undermine our way of life.
Let’s make American public education meaningful, important, purposeful…and fun again.
I’m not ready to hang up my cleats anytime soon—not by a long shot.