Teaching in America

Given all the great online tools for teaching–YouTube, Skype, Screencasts, et al–why would anyone limit themselves to the salaried positions of tax-funded school districts?  Stability, I guess.  I don’t really know.  Maybe a teacher does not know his or her options.  They are after all immediate graduates of four years of impoverished lifestyles at the local universities.  I liked college only a little.  Sitting in classes, listening to fairly boring and remote lectures seemed like a waste of time to me.  I had only two years earlier quit a job at UPS.  My community college experience is more in line with my picture of the “college experience.”  I met nice, hard-working young men and women.  Today I don’t keep in touch with any but one and only rarely.  School really is the worst environment.  The students I’d met at the community college all had hardships.  And why not?  They’re working part-time and have many of their financial goals on hold.

School was filled with distractions.  I recall my last year at UCI where the feminist message was being droned into our heads not in any classroom, least not yet, but on all of the different posters taped and pinned up around the school, supporting this cause or another.

I would have reached my goals a lot sooner had I stayed with UPS, saved my money, and read the books I wanted on my own.

Think about what school asks you to do.  It asks you to surrender full-time employment for the four to five years.  All in the hope–and that’s all it is is hope–that you will have been better off financially as a result of staying out of the workforce.  Chalk one up for stupidity.

Next, depending on your major, you may be on your path to riches or to the poor house.   I chose English.  Come on, let’s bump that up a bit, English Literature.  Doesn’t that sound refined, elegant, and rich.  O, it’s rich alright.  Rich as in “That’s rich,” as in the ironic rich, as in the belief in the preposterous or ridiculous.  But these narratives are hard to die.  I mean we’re presented with folks who have degrees in the very same subject.  Little did we know that that teacher has had up to three other jobs just to make ends meet but that is of no consequence.  The only thing that matters is the fact that he has a Masters or PhD in English Literature.  Wow!  He must really be a brainiac!!  Not really.  He’s just a guy with regrets who reads a lot but not as much as he’d like to.

But what about Shakespeare and the classics?  Surely one cannot disparage the value of a well-rounded education, right?  But what is a well-rounded education worth?  To whom?  To someone with crippling self-esteem and who suffers from self-loathing, yeah, maybe knowing why Brutus murders Caesar might come in handy somewhere.  That’s a knuckle-biter!!!

I’d like to say “It sure would have been nice for someone to help me count the costs back when I was considering quitting my job and going back to school.”  I wish that someone was around to review my options with me.  I wish that someone was around to help me count the costs.  But there wasn’t.  Even my brother who’d recently graduated from UCLA was in debt.  His degree did not catapult him into a high economic level.  Certainly not right out of college.  In fact it took him ten years to get back on his feet.  And he worked while in community college, so his debt was nowhere near what the debt level is of those kids who today are graduating from prestigious universities.

‘s teachers arrive in the profession with ideals and strategies as yet unseen and untested.  Or so they think.  What they will soon come to learn after a year or two managing a classroom and administering state and district-mandated tests is that school is less about learning the value of Shakespeare or morality or comparing the main religious doctrines around the world than it is about cultivating compliant students and teachers.  They don’t need 100% compliance; they don’t even need 80%.  All that schools need is somewhere between 60% to 75% compliance. And they get that by virtue of the population of kids who have already spent six to nine years in their school system.  What this compliance means is that the school and its district headquarters can thrown almost anything at kinds and the kids will comply.  Oh, they’ll complain, but complaining is the early stages of compliance.  So if schools turn away from literature, if they turn away from a certain standard of math, English, science, and history, the students will comply and won’t be the wiser.  Some parents can and will be the wiser, but fewer than 20% will do anything about it.  This is the culture into which beginning teachers are entering today.  How does one step into this culture, inject some moral accountability, and influence positive changes?  And at what costs?

Any young teacher entering schools today won’t know the cost.  Not yet.  Not now.  Because the initial cost will be to challenge goosestepping bureaucrats who are guardians of the state curriculum and, as such, have checked their moral integrity and conscience at the door.  They are paid to do exactly this–to surrender their conscience and moral judgment to the tax-funded authority of the state.  Schools do find people who are willing to please and in that pleasing the individual compromises his values.  I’ve seen some teachers who will do anything to anyone for an iota share in very ephemeral power or for a few extra dollars.  I don’t mean to portray school districts or teachers or administrators into some kind of moral waste land.  Individuals believe they are working hard to correct things and inject the world and a community and the hearts and minds of youth with important ideas or a philosophy of love that will positively influence the world.  And they do make tons of sacrifices in the service of that belief.  But they kind of forget that what’s important to them is not always import to their students.


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