Educated to Death

An educator's attempt at keeping sanity in a system that pushes children through an assembly line in little boxes.

Month: March, 2012

0139: “Liberty and Justice for Some?” she asked. #education #TrayvonMartin #SOSchat #RaceintheUS

A 7th grader asked me: “Why do we have to say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday?”

“Why do you ask?” I said.

“I don’t know what it means really. I don’t think anybody does. And, the part I kind of understand doesn’t really seem true for everyone.”

“Which part is that?”

“You know ‘Liberty and Justice for all’, it should be ‘Liberty and Justice for most’, or even ‘Liberty and Justice for some’. Trayvon Martin doesn’t have justice. And he doesn’t have any liberty anymore.”

“My friend got shot by a cop in front of my house a few years ago. He just had a bag of chips and it was dark. He didn’t have justice either.” another student added.

“So what should we do about it?” I said.

“We should protest or do something. Show solidarity. Or I could write a book. Or we could call Congress again like we did for SOPA. We should make people think.”

The discussion went on for a while longer. Then we had to discuss prefixes for the fast approaching test.

A student remarked, “It seems kind of dumb talking about prefixes after talking about liberty and justice and people’s lives and rights.”

“I agree,” I said, “We’ll get through the grammar quickly.” We did, and we returned to our conversation. Myles wanted to sing a protest song and wear his hoodie. We sang. I wish this was the focus of our schools. Grammar matters, but only if it helps communicate big ideas, or small ones. We had an important class session. Humanity took the cake today, not the test.


0138: #Testing and the Pity of a Dehumanizing System #education #edreform #SOSchat


I am not pro-testing. I view education as a humanist activity. You know, supporting our fellow human being. Mass Testing does nothing to support our fellow human being. Testing is forcefully imposed upon us. It tears us apart, and transforms teaching and learning into terror, stress, and mind-numbing test prep. Mass testing has changed the face of education. It was not perfect before, nor will it ever be, but we should strive for something more than the mass dehumanization of everything the Education System touches. Who knew we were a part of Midas’ touch, only gold is too expensive so everything just turns to shit.

I’d just like to see light in the eyes of students and educators again.

0137: The Test, Threats, and a Malaise Sandwich #education #testing #SOSchat #bullshit


This morning students were herded into the gym to be “motivated” and reminded of the importance of the test and the impending week of extreme test prep. In faculty meetings there has been talk of being positive and trying to encourage students to do there best. Propaganda, but generally non-threatening. When my students made it back to class I asked them how the meeting went. They were really mopey walking back to class. Frankly, they all seemed a little pissed off, and downtrodden. I smiled sarcastically and asked if they were “motivated” yet. One student spoke up, “Really, it was more to tell us how if we didn’t come to the test we would flunk and be suspended.” Another student chimed in, “Yeah, it was like a threat, or something.”

All this “positive” talk is quite confusing to teachers and students. There is mention of “making sure we’re doing what’s best for the kids”, and “If you’re not here for the kids, please don’t come back”. “Doing what’s best for the kids” equates with doing what’s best to keep one’s job, from top to bottom. And, the ones “not here for the kids” are the ones who are not tactful about refusing to give up their usual subjects to skill and drill these next few weeks. Science teachers want to finish teaching science, social studies want to continue, just as all other non-tested areas want to continue. Are these naysayers just being defiant or have they had enough of not having any control o what happens in class? Many teachers acquiesce out of fear. Others rebel subtly while paying lip service to the system (currently I fall into this category. I’ll live to fight another day and do what I know is best in my classroom). And, then there are those who are just fed up. I neglect to mention the very tiny percentage of those who are here for the wrong reasons or have reached there threshold for giving a shit. Regardless, we’re all in a strange situation. We say one thing, but mean another. Some of us have accepted what is said as full blown truth, if only for the sake of maintaining a semblance of sanity. The students are threatened and then told they are being encouraged. Everyone’s stressed. Fights are breaking out more frequently. Brows are furrowed constantly. Teachers are bickering. Meetings are foreboding. This is what education has become. I don’t like it around this time of year. It’s inhuman.

0093: They were “taught” or “helped to learn”? Directing our #language to benefit our students #SOSchat #edchat

Teaching is quickly being reduced to a process of depositing information in the minds of our students for the simple purpose of them regurgitation the info onto a bubble sheet. Good teaching = good test scores. Good test scores = caring teacher. A = B and B = FU. We’re in this terrible cycle of educational propaganda that tugs at the hearts, minds, and souls of teachers. We’re confused. The triangle has been called a circle so much we no longer know the difference. So, we must combat this by reworking our language.

Rather than teaching, we must assist learning. I “taught” them the quadratic formula can no longer suffice. It must be replaced with “I helped them to learn the quadratic formula and its applications”. This simple restructuring of a phrase is the difference in a paternalistic teaching practice, and helping a learner become critically aware. With the changing terms comes a change of mindset—a transformation. It requires, me, the teacher to view myself as an assistant, rather than a ruler. It forces humility. It requires a benevolent and democratic spirit to admit the small role of helping someone else learn. “I taught” is an exceptionally self-aggrandizing statement. “I taught” gives credit where credit should be shared.

I am asking you to join me in the challenging task of replacing paternalistic language with democratic language in the teaching practice. It will be a challenge, and a slew of failures. It’s necessary for me to teach with the intent of building a democratic critical consciousness among my students and myself. We must redefine teaching with our language. Our actions will change as our consciousness grows. We must reclaim teaching from the deformers and the testers. We must help our people.

0136: On #ClassroomManagement, General Mayhem, and Evil Sundries Pt. 1 #education #behavior #SOSchat

I’m reluctant to discuss classroom management as I don’t like the terminology or many of the reasons behind it. Nonetheless, it can be a problem for all of us from time to time. It can be especially daunting for new teachers. Additionally, classroom management, if we must refer to it in such a way, is presented as a formula with little discussion as to how or why some things work and others do not. Running a classroom takes experience, skill, patience, and reflection. Allowing learners to learn to run the class takes even more. But, for now we’ll touch on the concept of classroom management with little criticism for the purpose of keeping me focus (I’m sure we’ll discover this statement to be a falsehood).

The broad and brighter idea behind classroom management is if behavior is “under control” or a non-issue, then instruction/learning can more easily take place. In other words, if you’re not having to deal with behavior problems, more saliently, general confusion, then teaching becomes the focus of the class.

Of course, the active definition of classroom management is usually determined by administration and can range from the pragmatic orderly classroom where learning can take place, to a judgment based simply on number of office discipline referrals, to demanding a silent class. But, for the purpose of our discussion let’s try to stick with classroom management for the purpose of learning. However, I don’t think it will be possible to avoid drifting into some of the darker reasons and necessities for classroom management.

Back to the thesis, if a classroom is orderly then learning is more probable. By orderly, I do not mean silent, automatic, dead, etc.; rather, I mean safe and fairly predictable in terms of the behavior of the teacher and the learners. Order can provide an environment conducive to learning. The ways by which order is achieved and maintain also weigh heavily on this discussion. Order can be maintained through fear or love. Fear is punitive and generally authoritative, overt or covert. Love involves a more democratic and humanistic process. The more humanistic approach functions to allow students to work within a given framework with great freedom. Their ideas, goals, and curiosity direct the class. This is difficult to pull off in our current environment where the test dictates all, but it’s still possible to allow students a level of freedom and still work within the prescribed curriculum. Parameters still will be drawn, and the test will still be the final punitive dictator of action.

Theory aside, let’s look at some specific components of classroom management and why they work or fail. We’ll take rules, procedures, and directives. We’ll count the rules and procedures in the category of more permanent classroom governance, and directives will be the day to day, moment to moment communication between teacher and student. I used the word “directive” to reflect the punitive nature of the testing environment. We are positioned in a system that requires a level of punitive action. We will also look at ways to lessen the punitive effects, if they can be lessened. Maybe they can only be disguised. I’ll attempt to unravel that, too.

Tune in tomorrow for more mayhem.

0135: What is #Education? For my own sake, and maybe yours. #revolution #SOSchat #occupyedu

I will attempt to amaze you, dear reader, with my death defying attempt at reinventing the will. I will answer the question: what is education? I think it is important for any educator who claims to be critical in any way to attempt to define education. It is especially important for me to write in the first person in order to prevent myself from wandering into the unnecessary territory of absolute theory and generalization, though theory and generalizations may well be a part of the impending diatribe and exploration. It is important for me to do this for the sake of understanding my own practice and how my practice differs from prescriptive practice of education. I assume this venture will most likely attempt to justify my practice, and give credence to my constant straying from the prescribed curriculum, or perhaps I will find myself to be a fraud. Perhaps my meandering will be of some use to you, dear reader. If not, disregard it as the ravings of a shithouse rat. I will cut the crap and begin.

What is education?

Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand.

(Very general and somewhat useless)

A) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand his or her own experience.

B) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand the experience of someone else.

C) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand that they are useless and nothing more than a number.

D) Education is a tool that can be used however it’s distributors choose.

I’m sure anyone of these answers could suffice, but what is it to me? I view education as a tool to be acquired and used by individuals, communities, and so forth to transform there worlds. Education is a tool for transformation. It shouldn’t free anyone; rather, it should give people the tools to free themselves. Education is awakening to the reality that power is not fixed. It belongs in the hands of those who realize they have it. Education allows people to maneuver social classes, oppression, suppression, it equally gives people the power to oppress and suppress others. Education provides choice. Choice is freedom. The more choices, the more free. So, how does my practice as an educator reflect my current definition of education (current because it’s subject to change at any moment, but hopefully with some warning)?

First, I am inconsistent. As a classroom teacher I naturally war between my understanding of education and the prescribed method. I think this is a natural symptom of institutional function. While it may not completely dictate my actions, it forces me to at least maintain a level of compliance. I still must function within the institutional framework or else, I cannot say if this is good or bad. My reflection must become more complex, I suppose.

How do I temper my understanding of education with what is prescribed? What does this do to my view of myself as a teacher?

Foremost, I come to view myself as a rebellious individual. I position myself against the system of which I am a part. This is, at times beneficial to the students in my care, especially when I choose to allow them to take the lead in class. When we let curiosity take the reigns in the class we (students and me) learn, discover, understand far more than if we stuck to any narrow curriculum or even my narrow wishes as the “leader” of the class. I find this as true as a music teacher as I did as an algebra teacher. This is true also when I “teach” teachers. All learning settings are improved by the freedom to explore problems as they arise. While this allowance for freedom may be deemed rebellious by me or an onlooker it seems to be the only way for meaningful learning occur. There are problems that occur as a result of my dualistic view of myself in the classroom. It can be a Jekyll and Hyde sort of reaction. It certainly was more of this at the start of my career. I’ve become more efficient at doing what I deem best as I’ve advanced as a teacher; nonetheless the required doublethink can result in the emergence of a very ugly creature from time to time. Temperance is the key.

There is more to write on this topic, but I will stop here. Education, as I understand it is the means by which an individual acquires choice. It involves personal power. Education is not given; rather, education enables one to acquire. Thanks to Freire et al. for all the thoughts I’ve borrowed and am attempting to process. I hope to continue this process with the aide of colleagues and tempering dialogue.

0134: Why Teach? A Charge to Critical Educators #education #SOSchat #revolution #edreform #p2


As educators we must constantly assess why we continue as educators. We must examine our practice daily through reflection and evaluate whether or not we are teaching for what we deem to be the right reasons. It is up to the teacher, alone, what those “right reasons” are. There are many reasons for teaching, just as there are many reasons for education. Education as a system is dictated by various political and corporate forces; ignoring this is simply naïve. As educators, we are the final barrier between policy and the humans the policy affects (this flows up the bureaucratic continuum, as well— principals have some control over the way policy affects teachers and so forth). It must be noted that our refusal to carry out certain policies will undoubtedly result in disciplinary action of some sort, but if we deem a policy or anything stemming therefrom harmful to the learners in our care, it is our duty to disrupt said policy. I do not mean to say, at least at this point, that we should all openly rebel and refuse to do our jobs. Rather, we must be critical and vigilant in our pursuit of providing a “quality education” for the learners in our care. We must first identify within ourselves our own definition of quality education.

If the current system offers a complete and meaningful education with opportunity to learn, explore, and become more actualized then stay the course. If the system is beneficial to society as a whole, furthering the participatory processes necessary for the maintenance of an open society, then stay the course. However, if the system shows little or no intention of providing a context for enlightenment, empowerment, and even liberation, then the system cannot be considered benevolent and must be dismantled, and most certainly disrupted.

Teachers are not policy makers. We are at the bottom of the top-down bureaucratic pyramid. We have little say in what is prescribed for our classes and students, but we do have the choice to swallow the pill. We have the choice to follow doctors orders or not. I lean toward the belief that true education is necessary for people to be free, and fully human, especially in an institutionalized society. Humans should have a right and the power to determine how and if they are institutionalized. Society should be open. If we do not help the learners in our care build their critical minds and spirits, then they will never have a choice in anything. We did not have that choice. We were pushed through one institution and into others with little choice, many of us never questioned the validity of the practices that affected us, many of us still have not or will not. What I am proposing, I suppose, could lead to anarchy of a sort. Our institutions certainly provide structure, and there is a need, at least currently, for a structure. But, we, the People, should have a strong say in the structure. We have a right, a natural right, to determine what is best for us.

As teachers, we have the choice to provide learners with skills, tools, and experiences that will make possible their own personal enlightenment. We can also orchestrate their uninterruptible submission to corruption, consumption, and greed. We can mold critical free people, or we can create subservient sheep. I submit that my views may be absolutely wrong and should be questioned and scrutinized without relent, unless, of course, you find the critical spirit abhorrent, in which case you should quickly swallow any bit of snake oil sent your way. As educators, we must be critical. We must understand our power. We must act.

We are not radicals; we simply want what’s best for our students, our neighbors, communities, and countries. We will do what’s best. We will teach.

0133: Standards-Based #Education for Freedom #occupyedu #SOSchat #edreform

Yes, education should have standards, and yes, those standards should be tested with corporations in mind. The STANDARD should be that all learners are equipped with the critical skills to participate in an open society; that is, learners should be literate, connected, and aware. The test will be if power shifts, or not. If not, then we should rethink our standard. For this standard to be met, there will be steps to take. We will have to extend education beyond the first 18 years of life, and encourage learning and growth for all. Standards based learning, of course. But we just need one loose standard—that the People be allowed to acquire education that will benefit them.

We will bang out the how’s and why’s together.

0132: Topics in Underground Curriculum: Non-violence and Dealings with Authority #SOSchat #education #occupyedu
To chat @educatedtodeath

It is beneficial to teach non-violence in the classroom, and to discuss its implications elsewhere. Non-violence is not always natural, but its a valuable tool and adds to the learner’s toolbox. Dialogue regarding violence, conflict resolution, and dealing with and around authority is invaluable. Time is not built-in for such conversations, but to neglect these topics is to set learners up for failure, danger, or death. The underground curriculum cannot be ignored.

0057: What if schools worked to strengthen communities instead of test scores? #occupyedu #SOSchat #p2 #revolution

Originally posted December 2011

Perhaps teachers and school leaders should work to help communities strengthen themselves and organize against oppression. Teachers could teach problem solving and work with students and community members to develop a curriculum aka an action plan to address specific problems within the community. Sure literacy. Sure math. But mainly relevant problem solving. Economic development. Crime prevention. Adult education. Early childhood. All in between. What if schools were designed for enabling community transformation. What if we spent time on rebuilding communities instead of worrying with national standards. What if standardization was concerned with a high quality of life for everyone instead of a number?