Educated to Death

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

Category: democracy

0154.5: Politicians, Politicos, and Pollyanna’s: The Futility of Change #education

Yesterday, I posed the question: what would education be like without politics? That was a far too general question upon second glance. Education as an institution is an almost entirely political institution. It runs likes a bureaucratic machine— of course, some parts are better oiled than others. I received a response that said education would be worse without the politics. Being that it is so much a political system, I agree. Without politicians, the system would collapse. In my questioning I made a terrible mistake/s. I made the assumption that all politicians are bad, and that all political systems are as well. They are not. Some people/systems have the best intentions and follow those intentions up with committed action. These would be politicians who function as true representatives of the people. My dealings with this group have been generally delightful, but only in the way sharing war stories is delightful. We share frustration with the slow rate of change, and nonsensical impasses to seemingly common sense legislation. As we see, things that need funding often aren’t, and money is often put into things it shouldn’t. When we ask “why can’t these funds be redirected” we’re met with mounds of paperwork, advocacy challenges, and so forth. I have, on the other hand, encountered politicians who are not at all sympathetic to the needs of teachers, students, people in general. They have what they need, so do their children and grandchildren. They share with me insincere condolences and general pats on the back for “all the good work in doing”, but have general disregard for anyone who isn’t allowed to walk in tunnels beneath The Hill. I’ve had ranges of experiences with politicians, politicos, and Pollyannas, but one thing remains the same and will remain the same: bureaucracy so often prevents progress (that’s stating the obvious in the worst way). Additionally, people make decisions as representatives for People who they will never know or understand. Education Systems, Prison Systems, Healthcare Systems, etc. all fall prey to grave inefficiencies, greed, corporate influence, nasty politics, and most important harming and neglecting just as many people as they “help”. Certainly, there is good that comes from all of the above institutions, but huge profits should not be listed in those lists of goods, especially if they’re not functioning in a helpful manner for all. So, I ask another question, hopefully a more focused question (with fewer “what-if’s” and more “how’s”): How can bureaucracy be eliminated or lessened from our institutions? How can services become more equitable? How can people be empowered to better sustain themselves? What will it take to make education more equitable for the children I teach? What will it take for the children of color I teach to be considered just as valuable as the kids across town?

I don’t know of these questions are better phrased, maybe just more honest. What can be done? Who can do it? Is it possible? Historically, Institutions don’t really change too much once they’ve been given life. So, if no change, what?

0153: Teaching for Change? #Revolution? #education #SOSchat #occupyedu #OWS


The concept of teaching for revolution extends far beyond the classroom. Yes, teachers teach for change. We want the learners in our care to leave with skills and understandings that will enable them to succeed. We want to provide the opportunity to access keys to a better future. But what is a better future? Is it simply graduating, going to college, getting a good job? Is it enlightenment? Is it power? What? If we are preparing our students to be consumers alone then we are doing them a monumental injustice. It’s possible to view success as access to products and services. But, could success be viewed as a transfer of power from one entity to another? A shift in the status quo? An outright overthrow or disruption? An equalization of powers? I think we should seek to answer these questions. Certainly, teaching for social justice has a root or two in the understanding that there is an imbalance of power. People, the People, must always push against authority when it becomes oppressive, suppressive, and flat out greedy. I don’t believe education as a whole will go the way of this form of teaching, but it has it’s place among the people who are blindly crushed beneath the heel of a leviathan. If you see injustice, if you know it as constant force in our day to day existence, help us gather and continue sharing ways we prepare our learners for success.

0150: On Beating a Dead Horse #education #edreform #race #equality #class #SOSchat


So often the proverbial horses we beat are not all dead to all people. Equally, some of the windmills we fight are not windmills at all; some of them really are raging giants. I submit, the monster, the giant, the pulse of the horse is to be determined by those nearest to them. If you’ve beat your horse completely to death or conquer your windmill, congratulations. Move onto the next one or help me conquer mine.

0149: Questions on Equality in #Education #race #class #SOSchat #occupyedu


I am becoming aware, brutally aware, that my experiences in public education are not common. There are people who see public education as a mildly problematic institution that generally does a good job of providing children with a basic education. There are others who find public education more than satisfactory. Children are treated in a humane manner and even allowed to thrive. Some of these children are affluent. Some are not. So I stand corrected in some areas. I’m glad that public education is serving some people a “good lunch” of equality and positive experiences. No doubt teachers work hard no matter the situation. But, there is still a stone unturned. My experience of public education as a teacher, a speaker, even a student.

First, I teach, have taught, attended, and am connected with educators who work in schools that primarily serve people of color, that is, anyone other than white. I think I have arrived at a point that requires questions, rather than attempted answers. Hopefully, those answers will arrive soon. So here goes. Are there schools, districts, and systems that ensure non-white students are treated equally to their cross county/city/neighborhood/any other division counterparts who happen to be white? Perhaps there’s a better way to phrase that question. Are children of color who are poor, illegal, ostracized from mainstream society, valued as much by any institution as other children? If so, where? I hope my experiences are very narrow. I hope the experiences of my peers who share my experiences around the country are narrow as well. But, even still, I am not satisfied. If my experiences were limited only to me, and I am totally disillusioned with a system to the point of being blinded to the good it does, then why are the children I teach less important than someone else’s children? Why are the children I have taught less valuable? Why don’t they receive the resources others receive? Why are they considered criminals the moment they are born, or the moment they enter kindergarten? And this view is not necessarily perpetuated by their teachers. I’ve taught alongside many understanding and frustrated teachers. I’ve taught with deeply committed people. I cannot call this an exception or a rule. I have found groups of teachers around this country that equally see this as a problem. But, to say that all teachers or people understand this would, in fact, be a sweeping generalization. That’s a good thing I suppose. And good for those who don’t understand this. But for those of us who do, what can we do? It’s appalling to know that people are still valued over other people. And they are. It is not possible to apply full blame to any single entity, but there certainly are directions in which we could wander. I hate that I am confused on this issue, and I’m not sure the question “why?” would even begin to answer or unravel the problem. Further, the problem neither begins or ends with public education as an institution; it is a problem, the problem of race, class, and equality, that runs throughout many of our American institutions. These problems certainly aren’t new, and I don’t know how to begin solve them except through dialogues that may lead to a new and revolutionary awareness of people who aren’t treated with equality that they should be. And let me rephrase that. Transformational dialogues must be a part of any shift in power. People who are oppressed, and there are people who are deeply oppressed this United States, but begin to function democratically, they must become a part of the change that affects them. For equality, power must shift. By which means, I dare not speculate. Certainly, this is the “real world” and students must learn to function within certain frameworks. But, what if those frameworks are not actually accessible to everyone? Or maybe just less accessible? What are we to do then? Are we to stay the course of public education and offer general courses in bullshit? Or are we to offer some alternative?

Regarding Freire in PK-12 education, if there is a third world in our backyards, what means does the third world have to access a first world? If there are parallel societies* in the US that function alongside mainstream society, but mostly separate, how is that gap to be bridged? Forcefully? Through dialogue? Mutual transformation? Who knows. I think that should suffice for now, from my vantage. I’m not sure how to go about answering these questions, just as I am unsure about answering them, but they need answering. I can’t foresee answers coming easily.

*Parallel society- those groups and subgroups who live within a society who are not represented by the lawmaking body, but subject to its imposed illegalities and punishment (Foucualt, ‘Discipline and Punish’); an underculture. What is to come of these groups of people?

0143: About my practice, radicalism, and strong rhetoric. #education #revolution #SOSchat


Alinsky teaches that generalizations are dangerous. One who speaks in generalizations is often distant from the practice of which they speak. I agree. For my own sake I will write in specifics as best I can, and I will forego editing for flow today. Let’s keep the thoughts raw.

I teach and have taught in what would be considered the third world of the United States. In these places violence, rape, drug abuse, gang activity, incest, illiteracy, etc. are the norm.

Communities suffer. Kids suffer and are hopeless. It is transforming to teach in these places. The fight against cynicism requires strong language and ideology.

Their general attitude is “fuck the test”. Mine has become quiete similar. Paying lip service to doing what is “best for children” by supporting “best practices” that get the “best results”, but still leave children illiterate, hopeless, and suffering is not acceptable. If the communities were changing as a result of our “best practices” I could get behind it.

I taught algebra in these communities. Lived within earshot of the gunshots. Helicopters for drug raids. Raids of migrant camps and immigrant housing. Been threatened, intimidated, frightened, triumphant, etc. I see systems that simply do not acknowledge the people I know, love, and trust. I did not bother teaching entirely to the test, even though that consumed some of my time. Rather, we worked on connecting mathematical concepts. Making them accessible and applicable. We investigate together using any tools we could find. We did word puzzles, riddles, brain teasers, textbook work, used wikis, YouTube, cellphones, anything to learn algebra, but more important to learn to access information— to become powerful. We also wrote programs, created art, literature, music. We cried, laughed and argued. We became and become family. Of these kids, “poor”, “hopeless”, “abused”, “forgotten”, “invisible”, many outperformed themselves, their peers in better settings on standardized tests (blah, blah). They’ve gone on to colleges, first generation to college. Some of the younger ones have entered schools of math and science. Others entered the military. Some have chosen non-violence as a means of participating in violent communities. Others have been murdered. Some are in prison. Some will be. Some will never be. The impact, however, is not because of me, though maybe some of my practices made their successes more likely. If anything, I let them be, we worked together. We learned together. I did not teach.

Some of these students arrived at the understanding that they were being paddled too frequently, and with too much force. They were. It was daily and disgusting. They opted without my knowledge to steal and destroy said paddle. They arrived at this power shift through their own discussions, perhaps having stemmed through what was learned in a few classes. A moment of individual transforming power can alter the course of a life.

I left algebra to get away from the testing. I still help with it, but more as a consultant to other teachers and academic coaches. I teach music for my soul, and the opportunity to engage more freely in open discussion and creative action with my students. We create culture together. It’s similar to my practice in maths, just with fewer constraints. We have the option to discuss at length when someone saw someone get shot the night before. When someone dies or goes to prison. We get to interact more naturally. We get to create for the sake of creating. We can even focus on remediating lost skills—math, literacy, content literacy— with no pacing guide, and through arts integration methods. All students should be able to arrive at new understandings and build language for expression and transformation through learning. I get to be a part of this and I am grateful.

I am a radical teacher. I fail. Persevere. Agitate. Teach. I will continue doing these things.

Until people are equal, I suggest we continue fighting. We’ll rock the boat until it tips over.

My practice is not unique. It is not the norm in many cases, but is neither original nor unique. It’s modeled after admirable practices of other teachers, mentors, philosophers, and is dictated by the needs of the learners in my care.

0142: #Teaching for #Revolution #education #SOSchat #occupyedu #occupy


Why teach critical thinking if not for revolution? Revolution is change, transformation, innovation. It’s a concept that is inevitable if people learn to think, learn to learn, learn that they are the creators of culture. Critical thinking embraces the individual power to create, collaborate, question, reinvent, and so forth. When we teach or help learners develop their critical thinking, we are not teaching revolution in the political or economic sense, though either of those may come; rather, we helping learners revolutionize their own consciousnesses. Revolution of consciousness is far more threatening than political or economic revolution because it is permanent, sustainable, decentralized, humanizing, and is multifactorial. As teachers, as humans we must strive for this sort of revolution. The world belongs to those who own their own minds.

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.

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.

0131: #Education for Suppression and Control or Liberation and Enlightenment? It’s our choice. #SOSchat #edreform #p2 #OWS

If education is necessary for society to remain open or democratic or participatory, then what are we providing our students? Would it be too radical to say that engaging in stringently paced test prep, or test prep at all, drastically impairs the ability of a learner to grasp the concept of rule by the people much less participate in it? Education can function as a system of subversion or of liberation and enlightenment. A system that is built around a test can in no way be a system of liberation. I’m not sure that enlightenment can be standardized either. If we are aware of this, then why or how do we continue? Do we continue doing the same thing, the same bland test prep, the same churched up test prep? Do we continue to systematically disable the generation in our care (mind you we will soon be in their care)? If we remain passive, then we are the architects of their demise, and ours. We are building the machine that will destroy us.

If we, as educators, are believers in open, democratic, and participatory societies, then we must resist. We must survive, yes, but resist more. We must do everything in our classrooms to ensure learners learn to participate, learn to become critical, learn to smell and identify shit when shit abounds. We must enable thinkers and doers, not sitters and getters. We are not blameless if students leave our classrooms as passive automatons. Find a way to disrupt and resist corruption. We must find a way to affect things outside our classrooms. We must engage other teachers in resistance. We must encourage teachers to really teach. We must engage each other in dialogue that leads to informed and effective action. We must find a way to effect policy. We must disrupt and alter, for the better, the punitive top down measures that stand to prevent the possibility of liberating and enlightening education.

Most important, we must connect with and support one another. We must engage others. The change necessary cannot be implemented by a few, if it is we stand to see another version of the same system emerge, only with a slight twist. We, educators, parents, lovers of democracy and open society, must stand together and build support for whatever change we see as best. Power in education has been in the wrong hands for too long. The pendulum need not swing the other day. The pendulum needs to stop swinging all together. The paradigm has shifted, but the pendulum still stands swinging as a political seismograph. As long as education is dictated by those whose interests lie outside the realm of education, then the education that enables critical thought and participation will not be possible. If we’re fine with the current system, then we should let it stand. If we’re not, then we should change it. But, it will not change if we remain passive. It will not change if we or our neighbors are asleep. For now, it’s time to wake up.