“You’re an idealist, and I pity you as I would the village idiot.” ~ Stanley Kubrick
People need the swift kick in the ass just as much as the pat on the back.
I realized this when I began meandering through the turbulent seas of Twitter. To be honest, there were selfish motives behind my entry into the Twitter-verse: mostly, to get more people to the Neighborhood. There must be more people like me that love history, teaching, and the occasional swear word.
Along the way, I stumbled upon internal chats among educators. It was a potential minefield; a conversation amongst teachers can range from the banal to the caustic. This one in particular, on the surface, wasn’t too bad: teachers, parents, administrators trading articles, ideas, resources, webpages, etc. Great stuff, I thought, exactly the thing Twitter excels at: easy transfer of ideas and information.
However, along the way some “tweets” began to sound like the following (I left out the usernames to protect the hopelessly guilty):
“An inclusive classroom is one that includes everyone in learning.”
“Teacher must use creative means to motivate students.”
“We all here know what we need to do. We’ve got to model it and share it and make it ‘the norm.’”
“Students need to know what is expected of them, their effort is worthwhile & feel they will benefit from performance.”
“CREATE TEACHABLE MOMENTS with ur kids and grandkids”
“Classroom should be about freedom to learn as needed when needed”
“Teachers don’t create learning, but can create effective learning environments. That’s the challenge.”
“Any book/poem/doc. can be analyzed deeper w/carefully crafted, probing questions to ‘enrich.’”
“Best teachers have engaged students because they themselves are engaged in what and who they are teaching.”
“If educators don’t like being judged by test scores, we need to devise alternate data forms. The days of teaching by feel are over.”
(The last one is particularly galling…I’ll bet an unsatisfactory rating thanks to Johnny getting a low reading score will change his tune.)
These are the people I fear and hate in education. Every one of these statements—every one—is one that is repeated over and over in textbooks, scholarly journals and articles. I learn nothing, absolutely nothing, from them. These statements are banal, insipid, and pedantic. Their authors seem to treat teachers as if they were brain-damaged children.
Worst of all, the education establishment actually leans on these balloonheads for leadership—mostly due to their perfect parroting of the party line. All the terminology, the buzzwords from “accountable” to “verbalize” (a word I personally detest), thrown up right back at the admins to their devilish glee.
The proof is also in the packaging. The NCLB crowd loves these yahoos because they convey a “positive” attitude. It shows in their saccharin-sweet pep tweets on Twitter: “Way to keep it positive!” “Good positive discussion about our practice.” “Positive attitudes to help all learners.” The Duncan/Rhee crowd loves these idiots because they package their nonsensical theories with smiles on their faces.
Well, I’ve said this a thousand times: people who smile too much are either insane or up to no good.
Children’s education, especially as children grow older, does not need the constant ray of sunshine. Sometimes, the dark clouds of cynicism and sarcasm can teach a child far more than the ray of hope behind them.
I’m not saying that teachers need to be loathsome misanthropes, nor should cynicism be applied uniformly: being brutally honest with a kindergarten class will leave a lot of crying eyes and soiled bottoms. Yet cynicism does have an important place in education, especially amongst students in “disadvantaged” or “economically-depressed” areas (more terminology I loathe).
While the positive idealist (for lack of a better term) makes sure everyone feels “safe” and “involved,” the cynic “keeps it real.” – This is the problem of “candy-coating”, the need to soften the blows of everyday life in order to keep students happy. It may work with little kids, but the older ones know better: do not try to bullshit the bullshit artists. If there is bad news, if something happened in the community, I confront it honestly and directly. Don’t try to placate students with the platitudes of the TFA/NCLB crowd: be honest about the obstacles that students face in this world. The students respect you more because of it.
While the positive idealist brings out the positive contributions in the past, the cynic displays the past—warts and all. – Nowhere does this crop up most than in social studies. I see the young go-getter types use social studies and gloss over the dirtier details to get to the points needed to pass the test (since the scores are all they care about). What a crock. You want to make kids engaged in history? Describe in gory detail the lower holds of a transatlantic slave ship, the filthy streets of colonial towns, a Civil War surgery table, or a public execution. Blood, guts, sex and bodily functions are what make the past exciting and interesting.
While the positive idealist constantly finds the bright side of the problem, the cynic points out what is clearly wrong with the situation – This ties with the need to candy-coat; the positive types who love to “look on the bright side” and see the good in the bad. Sometimes there is no good. Sometimes the problem is too obvious or direct that no justification will make it go away. Cynics are painfully aware of the problems around them, and can conceive a clear diagnosis as to what is wrong. Yet too many do-gooders see this as being insensitive and not-caring. Would we care if we didn’t dwell on these problems?
While the positive idealist tries to find “out of the box” solutions, the cynic gets solutions that actually work – Stop reading the education journal, and put down the textbook. Teachers have been around long before there were even schools of education to warp our minds. If there is a problem that requires an “out of the box” solution, then it’s probably something that’s beyond your control—besides, it’s important that everyone is accountable for school problems, from Arne Duncan to the little shit in the fourth row who still doesn’t do his homework (and you won’t like my solution to that problem).
In terms of standardized testing, the positive idealist makes it something that it isn’t, while the cynic is brutally honest – Many teachers and principals would be shocked that I would share my honest opinion about standardized tests. This is due to the unfounded notion that understanding the reality of testing will make students apathetic and not care. I am very upfront: standardized tests measure only how well you do on a test. They are not measures of your intelligence. In my world, there would be no standardized tests. But that is out of my hands, and out of yours. The state has decided that these bubbled pieces of paper are what determine your advancement to the next grade, so it’s best for all of us to do our best and get it over with.
(Please let me know of any scoundrel who dares tell a child that a standardized test determines how smart they are. They will be getting the thrashing of a lifetime from yours truly. No jury would ever convict me.)
This doesn’t mean that a classroom can’t be a happy, positive place. It also doesn’t mean that students cannot reach for their dreams and goals. What the cynic does is place an action plan on the goals/ideas using the critical eye. You may plan route A, but the curmudgeon in you understands the pitfalls and suggests route B is the better option. Its realism for the classroom, and can easily coexist with the positive vibes most teachers want/need in their rooms.
In closing, I want to clear up a misconception about us, one that comes up a lot in the Twitter chats and the speeches of “reformers.” Many people seem to think that because a teacher is cynical, they are automatically selfish and don’t care about their students. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love my students, every one of them. I care deeply about their education, about their future, about their growth into adulthood. I may not use the ho-hum terminology reformers like to throw around, but I care.
I’m not in this profession to get high test scores, to create numbers on a chart or an upward-turning graph. All that is bullshit. I’m not in this so that my students can do just well enough to get a high school diploma. I’m not in this to build “lifelong learners.” A bum on the street can be a “lifelong learner.” I’m not in this to “activate the intelligences of each child” or to “engage every learner.”
My motives are more lofty—and to Arne Duncan and company, much more sinister.
My goal is to walk into a lecture hall in any Ivy-League university or equivalent (that’s right, Ivy League, not community college) and see my students in the class taking notes. The lily-white and Asian students may be clutching their purses and wallets at the sight of them. As my students are called, they dazzle the class with deep, thoughtful and cogent arguments and knowledge—so dazzling that the other students shit in their pants at their aptitude. They will go on to positions of power and influence in our society: positions once held by children of the highest classes.
It’ll make the upper-class elites in America’s universities tremble. It’ll give pride to communities like the South Bronx that desperately need real-life heroes.
Most importantly, it’ll finally destroy the NCLB dream of burying working-class advancement under the tyranny of standardized testing.
That is why a cynic named Mr. D is an educator.
The FY’2013 Federal Budget Proposal–and its Implications for Social Studies
It seems the one truly bipartisan agenda in Washington today is duping the American public.
The bailout, the modest job increases, the upswing in the NASDAQ and the Dow Jones, even the rebound in the mortgage bond market are all spun to make it seem that things are actually getting better for average Americans.
The same is true for American education, and no more so than social studies—the sacrificial lamb to the altar of “interdisciplinary” or “integrative” studies.
Back in 2011, the federal budget for the fiscal year 2012 saw hatchet-like slashes across federal agencies, cracking off limbs where pruning would suffice. In education, the ax fell on programs that were needed for its stated mission of a literate citizenry by 2014. Suffice to say the boughs that needed most attention were left untouched (boughs with branches in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example).
The Teaching American History (TAH) Grant program, of which I am a big fan, lost its funding for FY 2012, signaling to one and all Washington’s contempt for a quality education for our citizens. In the 2013 budget released on February 13, the program’s woes would continue—the lost funds would not return.
Furthermore, most of the 2012 cuts have remained in place for 2013. Although the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would receive a modest $8.2 million boost, most agencies saw a leveling off or a reduction in funding.
The real insult, however, is how the Obama administration’s Department of Education views the role of social studies in future national plans.
Once again, the DOE proposes to scrap traditional K-12 history education and fold it into this new educational Leviathan named “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.” According to the National Coalition for History, the program aims to:
To add insult to injury, this boondoggle has also felt the sharp edge of Obama’s ax: from $246 million in FY’12 to an astounding $90 million in this current budget. Even the Administration has lost faith in their own proposal, to the tune of an over 63% reduction in funding.
If the federal government doesn’t even believe in this idea, why should educators buy into it?
In this endeavor, social studies educators should be joined with science faculty, teachers in foreign languages, physical education teachers, athletic coaches and others in common cause. As much as integration is a valuable tool in the classroom, it is not a silver bullet for the ills of education—any teacher will tell you that.
There are certain skills, concepts and facts that require the concentration, focus and expertise of a dedicated subject. Thus, funding should also reflect the continued necessity of subjects/content areas by allocating monies to science, foreign languages, the arts and especially the social studies.
This program is dependent on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which governs K-12 education. Since it’s an election year, and the ESEA is mired in Congressional deadlock, then nothing much can be done on this in the coming session. Yet that gives that much more time to express our opinions on the matter.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of collective action—too much of the Beltway cynic in me. However, this can be driven in the right direction given the right buttons are pushed.
Here is the link to the members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Also included is the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (phew, that’s a mouthful). Take a little time to let them know that “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education” is nothing but a front to destroy our educational system. It will make a mockery of our system, dragging us even farther behind other countries in every category.
Furthermore, even the Administration has shown its reluctance by slashing its funding—so Congress should devote those funds to more worthy educational endeavors.
Please contact your local Congressman, at any rate…and as usual, make sure to let him/know the Neighborhood sent you.
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
John Kline, Minnesota
Thomas E. Petri, Wisconsin
Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California
Judy Biggert, Illinois
Todd Russell Platts, Pennsylvania
Joe Wilson, South Carolina
Virginia Foxx, North Carolina
Bob Goodlatte, Virginia
Duncan Hunter, California
David P. Roe, Tennessee
Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania
Tim Walberg, Michigan
Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
Richard L. Hanna, New York
Todd Rokita, Indiana
Larry Bucshon, Indiana
Trey Gowdy, South Carolina
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania
Kristi L. Noem, South Dakota
Martha Roby, Alabama
Joseph J. Heck, Nevada
Dennis A. Ross, Florida
Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania
George Miller, California
(Senior Democratic Member)
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan
Donald M. Payne, New Jersey
Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia
Lynn C. Woolsey, California
Rubén Hinojosa, Texas
Carolyn McCarthy, New York
John F. Tierney, Massachusetts
Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio
Rush D. Holt, New Jersey
Susan A. Davis, California
Raúl M. Grijalva, Arizona
Timothy H. Bishop, New York
David Loebsack, Iowa
Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii
Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Tom Harkin (IA) – Chair
Barbara A. Mikulski (MD)
Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Patty Murray (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA)
Kay R. Hagan (NC)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Al Franken (MN)
Michael F. Bennet (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Michael B. Enzi (WY) -Ranking Republican Senator
Lamar Alexander (TN)
Richard Burr (NC)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Rand Paul (KY)
Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
John McCain (AZ)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Mark Kirk (IL)
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Tagged as Barack Obama, Civil Rights, Commentary, current events, Curriculum, Dale E. Kildee, Education, education reform, Educational leadership, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, History, House Committee, NCLB, No Child Left Behind, Opinion, Social studies, Standards, Teachers, Teaching, Todd Russell Platts, United States, United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce, United States Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions, Washington