Educated to Death

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

Category: government

0126: Why External Motivators are a Must, and why that’s a problem. #education #edreform #SOSchat #control

(Please, if what you find below is a waste of time, skip to the *; don’t waste your time on a fool’s attempt to make sense of the senseless. Cheers.)

I want to begin by stating that I am a proponent of a critical internal locus of control for human beings— that would, of course, include students. It’s important to use ‘critical’ as a qualifier, as well, because so much of what we think is internalized has been conditioned and now seems internal. Additionally, ample argument can be made that every action is made externally. By that I mean we are constantly responding to stimuli no matter how we intellectualize it. I will not try to tease out these complications, frankly that would be a trite go at rhetorical masturbation for which I do not have the time.

That said, external motivators are a must for our current educational model of skill, drill, and test to be effective. Students, and teachers, for that matter are not working on anything truly stimulating provided by the state. The curriculum is cold and pointless, schools function more as prisons than places of curious exploration, any attempts to find glimmers of hope are subdued quickly by the pacing guide, the examples are endless. External control is required when forcing someone to be a something. Education, as it is (arguably education in general), seeks to alter the natural flow of curiosity. It seeks to apply discipline to the mind, and discipline is important. Change, growth, transformation all require a level of discipline, a great deal of it, in fact. Intellectual growth, the building of skills, thinking, and so forth all require discipline. But, discipline in itself is not the problem. The problem is, at least, two-fold. First, in our system of institutional function, the discipline, the locus of control, is not returned to the individual without rendering it less that operative. Second, the current system requires a form of external control that will prevent resistance— the content is so numbing, and the structure so dehumanizing that any soul will and rightfully resist. As a result, external motivators are a must in schools, then people can wander aimlessly through the remainder of their existence from institution to institution seeking refuge from any lack of structure. This is not a phenomenon caused entirely by education, but is simply a part of the function of western society. But, back to school. Testing especially has required motivation to be more and more external and punitive. If it isn’t then quotas won’t be made, curriculum won’t be covered (understanding is not a consideration), and testing will not boom. The industry would crumble of we had kindergartens crawling around playing with blocks, and 8th grade biology classes spending several weeks dissecting frogs. The test must happen. That is the aim. All of life is a test— a standardized test. With all this testing, the control can never be returned to the individual. What would they do? Would they rebel? Not if you’ve destroyed the will too. So while the gradual release of responsibility is present in word, if the responsibility was never developed and nurtured, then it may never appear without intensive democratic intervention that seeks to liberate the colonialized mind and being.

*I quite possibly got lost in the circles of rhetoric above, the problems of our education systems and society are multifactorial and interrelated. So, in summation, without extreme external control our education system, with its current goals, would not function. Tests would never be bubbled, remediation and remediation specialists would have no place, reformers would have to do something else, the industry would change. The means is an end in itself. Control people from as early as possible, and they will belong to their controllers forever. Hopefully, they will never even noticed they’re being controlled. I mean what would the world be like if people went around asking questions and making choices? Reasonable, perhaps?

0123: Teachers as Disruptors of State Sponsored Suppression of the Masses #occupyedu #revolution #education #SOSchat

Education functions either as a means of liberation or suppression. It’s difficult to tease the two apart. All that public or formal education claims to be is chock full of contradictions. Less is being done to hide these contradictions, but the rhetoric remains the same. Reformers such as Michelle Rhee claim to be “working tirelessly to build educational environments that foster learning”, while working with entities that function to suppress thought and learning through extreme testing measures. The testing is in the name of good, but has horrific affects. The fallout of all this “good” that has been done is comparable to a Chernobyl disaster of the mind. Minds have been left deformed and incapable of critical thought or participation through rigorous testing practice that leaves no time to develop basic skills. Achievement gaps continue to widen as does The chasm between rich and poor. The language of reform is confusing and misleading. We’re told and tell ourselves, as we’re told, that we are working for good.
But, we see no signs of improvement. Reformers provide us with new slogans to keep morale high.

Is all hopeless? No, but we are certainly seeing the moment nearing it’s crisis. People grow restless as conditions worsen in every area. Slogans only work for so long. What role do educators have in all of this? We function ‘in loco parentis’. We serve in place of the parent in the schools. 8+ hours of the day, 186+ days of the year. We have that much time to aide in the liberation of minds, or suppress them. There are measures taken against us if we work on the behalf of liberation. We will be labeled ineffective enemies of by those who work “tirelessly” to “foster learning”. If we do not work to civically engage our students; that is, to engage them and help them engage in critical dialogue and deepen their understanding of their own world, then we help our nations and fellow people slip deeper into apathy and passivity. ‘In loco parentis’ puts us in a place to disrupt suppression of minds. We must take that opportunity.

Teachers can no longer afford to just be teachers. We cannot be passive. The People pass through our classrooms; they stay there for 13 + years. We have to unite as teachers and ensure the best possible education for those in our care, even of its an underground curriculum, and it will be. We cannot afford to let “Education” destroy generations and minds and souls. We must enable critical learning. We must disrupt this travesty.

0122: Surely I’m Confused. Which ‘People’ are the “People”? #government #democracy #occupy #p2 #ctl

How can anyone call this a democracy? Sure. People can participate. But, participation is limited. Very limited. People are detached from the government. It is not the people’s government. It is ‘certain’ people’s government. It is a government that belongs to ‘certain’ organizations. The candidates and current politicians rarely have any true connection to
the people, and vice-versa. A politician is nothing more than a distant celebrity who has power reaching far beyond entertainment. We, the people, vote, or not, for someone who has the funds to advertise and sustain a campaign— and they have staffs who are quite savvy in the fundraising department. These people, if they remain to be that, are distant entities from what what the common folk would know as people. Their station in life has endowed them with myriad opportunities and freedoms that only money and connections can buy. We are run by a ‘them’ that wants to be known as ‘us’.

Has this separation from the ruling spawned great apathy? Of course. But, apathy may not suffice. Apathy indicates the absence of what once was. Have we, all the people, ever really been involved? Or, has participation been limited to the wealthy, and upper middle class? All participation from the lower and working classes have seemed to require some form of public struggle. Demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience, and so forth, seem to have been the only means of persuasion for the lower socio-economic majority of our people. Much of the change that has come about through demonstration has been a result of public response to the excessive force used by authorities. Change does not seem to come through any sort of benevolence, but only for the sake of public opinion. Change comes for the sake of keeping a name squeaky clean to those who can see. This does not seem like democracy. It closely resembles the behavior of colonialized societies, where the oppressed classes have to fight tooth and nail for every smidgen of dignity they receive, or have to turn to alternative economies and protection structures. Societies like this have huge underclass systems that operate completely separate from “mainstream” society.

Surely, I’m confused. Please explain. Am I allowed to ask these questions? Do I have any rights? Why do I feel uneasy putting this into print? Paranoia is perhaps creeping in.

0116: Who the Hell is #Democracy? If you know, help me know. #education #revolution #occupy

(Please note, dear reader, that this is my attempt to process a complex notion for my own benefit. If the following string of words is beneficial to you, then I have accomplished something. If it is not, please skip to the end section— it is marked with an asterisk (*). I value your time and would never seek to waste it. Here’s your warning.)

We are disconnected from the decisions that affect us. We are permitted limited control in our governments. We are allowed to vote for our representatives. Our decisions are based on limited information that we receive through televised debates and advertisements and any other information we can dig up on our own. The same goes for national, state, and many municipal elections. We are given a bit of factual information, a lot of misinformation, and then are allowed to scavenge for any other info we can find. Once said representatives are elected we are in their hands. We have entrusted our future to them. Some say they are accountable to us. That’s a hard sale. We have the power to threaten not to reelect them. We can write letters, but our participation is minimal. Our access to them is restricted. This form of democracy is labeled representative democracy. We,the people, elect people to represent us. We, the people, have very limited power.

So why bother teaching/writing/talking about participating in democracy? Why not embrace apathy? The answer is neither simple, nor solitary. Democracy is a confusing term. There are many forms of democracy proper, and the word has been is used and misused in many other ways. I think it would be beneficial for the purpose of my writing to operationally define democracy within the context of my writing, educational, and social practice. I acknowledge that this task will undoubtedly need revision and may, in fact, not completely align with the ways I’ve used the term in the past. I think the term is used too loosely and often in an idealistic manner. It might be of use to determine what democracy is not.

The term democracy is often used politically to establish an air of rightness. The word alone evokes varying emotional responses depending on ones experience with “democracy”. In American schools and churches democracy is equated directly with “freedom” and the “best form of government”. “What is democracy?” “It means it’s a free country.” The argument is designed to be cyclical. To speak against democracy or even question it is to go against all that is “right”. If properly conditioned it is to go against one’s self. This understanding of democracy is naïve and incomplete. The mere repetition of phrases, and cyclical rhetoric do not equate with democracy.

Someone who has seen their country occupied by the troops of another country in the name of “democracy” will most certainly have a different understanding. In many places “democracy” has become synonymous with imperialistic interventionism. “Democracy” in this sense is a mere slogan to hide obfuscate imperialistic behaviors. Even if some sort of democratic process is put in place it will not be sustainable because it did not emerge from the people.

*So what (who) the Hell is democracy?

I shall not even attempt to define institutional democracy. Democratic governments are beyond my knowledge, but the concept seems a little far fetched, as the concept seems to require people relinquish their power for the sake of being ruled by some distant wealthy ruler. I’m sure I have missed the boat somewhere or I simply cannot comprehend it. I’ll continue.

The word democracy is made up of the word parts that combine mean “rule of the people”, the power is with the people. That’s simple enough. That immediately raises the question: “which people?” That question has been debated heartily for centuries. But, let’s stick with an operational definition for my own writing.

I attempting to use the term “democracy” in regard to individual participation in the shaping of their own worlds. Again, for my own sake, people can transform their own worlds/communities/cultures/etc. through democratic participation. Borrowing from Freire, as people become more interconnected it becomes more impossible for them not to participate in their own realities (Teaching for Critical Consciousness). The idea is to eliminate passivity. For power to be in the hands of the people, they must first participate with one another. They must care. They must be active. We are seeing people becoming more active through the use of social media and technology. Suddenly, communication and dissemination of information is possible on a grand scale. Surveillance is now a two way street. People have information. That is necessary for an open society. It’s necessary for people to rule. So, the goal of teaching, writing/talking about it is not necessarily to persuade a doubter or even to teach in an echo changer. The goal is to participate. By writing/talking/teaching I am engaging in the creation and distribution of thought/information. It may not be correct, but I am releasing. I am opening myself to debate, disagreement, maybe dialectic. I am taking a step. I am learning. By learning, I can start to teach. I suppose my idealistic goal is to learn to participate and help others learn to do the same. As “we” grows eventually we’ll happen upon a tipping point. It takes the people to be a democracy.

If you managed to read this far, I thank you. I ask that you help me understand what I am trying to understand better. I ask that you join me in thinking about this. I ask that you do your best to awaken your neighbors. We occupy this world together. We must participate.

Thanks for reading and responding. Cheers.

0113: What Happened to the Learning? #SOSchat #testingisnotteaching #edreform @arneduncan

I heard a veteran teacher, principal, and school board member (all the same person) speak yesterday. She entered public schools before segregation. She spoke passionately about her love of public schools. She, like many, expressed how she learned to read, write, think, speak, problem solve, cooperate, and collaborate in public schools. Her children did too. I did. I know many others who did too. What has happened? Why were we different? None of us were from the wealthy elite. I finished school just before testing became the end all be all. The school was large, mostly free lunch, and had problems, but people learned, left, became employed, went to college. This was in Mississippi by the way. The veteran educator who spoke was from an inner city district in Tennessee. Learning has happened for years. It seems to have suddenly ceased.

Did the learning stop because testing, that is the great high stakes standardized test? I couldn’t say, but then again maybe I could. Perhaps the test itself didn’t destroy the minds of a generation, but it required that it happen. Testing, as many know, has taken and continues to take every resource— mental, physical, and monetary— and put it toward some type of test preparation. Basic skills are neglected for the sake of a pacing guide. Kids aren’t able to fully learn to read or fully figure out multiplication because there is no time. Testing keeps the ball moving. Rarely can we go back and reteach. In fact, reteaching has been replaced with reviewing (the quick and shallow sibling of reteaching). The damage done from shallow, incomplete teaching is cumulative. Please be aware teachers don’t set out to teach shallowly. They/we are essentially tied to the pacing guide, or else. If a kid doesn’t fully develop as a reader in K-4, which isn’t the only focus of K-4, then other skills won’t develop. The foundation will not be there. K-4 has all sorts of testing rigors as well. Kids and teachers are stressed, learning is not allowed to be complete, and kids have to move forward without ever having built a proper foundation for learning. This lack of foundation snowballs into myriad other problems from academic deficiency, to behavior problems leading to in school arrests, and the school-to-prison pipeline continues.

The effects of testing are broad and can be summed up through the stories of those teachers, students, communities, and a nation affected by the attention deflected from actual education in the name of a test.

0112: Good Morning World. Who Turned Off the Fiction? #education #NDAA #occupy #panopticon

I have always read dystopian fiction with great fervor. The stories always seemed just beyond reality. It could happen, but it wasn’t happening. It was a nice escape that came with a warning. I’ve returned to these books and stories throughout my life with increasing alarm. 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, numerous comics, games, and other dystopian landscapes have all been, or seemed to have been, a disturbing release from the day to day. A release with a warning. I was bouncing back and forth between Warren Ellis’ ‘Transmetropolitan’ and Cory Doctorow’s ‘Little Brother’ the other night and became a little more uneasy than usual. My beloved dystopian fiction genre no longer seems to fit in the realm of fiction at all. Huxley was considered a futurist. The future seems to have arrived, ____________ (insert your own observations). Every institution from public schools to the military to our beloved government is waxing strangely Orwellian. I am not shocked. This has been a long time coming, I know, but it certainly hurts as the light grows brighter, as the fiction grows dimmer.

Good morning world. Who turned off the fiction?

The elite defend a sui generis #democracy, in which people are “unwell” and require “medicine”— whereas in fact their “ailment” is the wish to speak up and participate. Each time the people try to express themselves freely and to act, it is a sign that they continue to be ill and thus need medicine. In this strange interpretation of democracy, health is synonymous with popular silence and inaction.

—Paulo Freire from Education for Critical Consciousness

0107: That which renders us powerless, and what to do about it* #education #revolution #SOSchat #occupy

I am an educator, and a staunch supporter of public education and teachers. However, I find it increasingly difficult to support a system(s) that, from the moment it accepts a child, seeks to disable any critical spirit of humanity and replace it with an eternal need that can only be sated by some an institution. Our systems do not create participatory individuals. They create passive recipients of services needed. This does not seem to be a new phenomenon. Schools along with other social services have supplied the needs and thoughts of America’s underclass for quite sometime now. The middle class has equally been rendered just as passive, only having been allowed the illusion that they work for their own benefit, when in actuality, the middle class is no more free to participate than the poor. The poor are assistance and/or wage-slaves. The middle class are slaves to their debts and ideologies of security. Neither class works to benefit or affect themselves.

The poor have been rendered silent by being made dependent. They schools work to tame their spirits and limit their thoughts. They are allowed only basic literacy skills and never allowed to create. Testing has helped to narrow the curriculum and keep teachers and students focused on curriculum rather than problems. This strata is kept entertained and barely comfortable. If they step out of line they are beaten into submission, ushered into prisons, or other institutions. Individuals who escape the grasp of poverty are encouraged to continue the upward climb, abandoning the problems from which they were delivered. The version of success given them was that of the oppressor, and by eliminating critical consciousness there is no need to stop an reflect on one’s actions.

The rapidly diminishing middle class has been ushered through existence with a focus on maintenance of that which has been acquired. Their social structure has allowed for an illusion of social mobility through petty promotions and similar reinforcements. Some have been able to attain varying degrees of power through higher education and business, but the middle class, with a few exceptions has remained just as powerless as the poor, they’ve just had more choices of distraction. The institutions of the middle class very much allow the illusion of participation in democracy, but their choices are often small, and predetermined, for many, by sectarian or party affiliation. Churches and other similar social institutions among the middle class help dictate beliefs of the middle class.

Many people escape into the realms of academia which equally has its own fixed ideologies and requirements for advancement.

The ruling elite are incomprehensible beyond the fact that they have no choice but to fight to maintain their own power at any cost. For the ruling body to remain the ruling body it must either forcefully or insidiously keep the masses occupied with internal conflict and struggle, along with copious distraction. The people are divided by class, race, political affiliation, misinformation, prejudice, and so forth. I do not intend to say that these are completely manufactured, but the structures in which we survive allow for the development of such fears and divisions. People who fear one another can be easily controlled.

All that said, the problem is a lack of critical consciousness among the people. People do not participate, because their participation has been meaningless in the past. We learn as school children that we are incapable of really making any decision. We are nurtured to be consumers. Information is deposited in us by teachers. Teachers simply deliver the curriculum. We are passive within our communities. We wait for things to be changed. Some of us call our congressmen and speak with their aides, but we are only one vote. Everything is provided for us. If it isn’t, we don’t know what to do.

How is this solved?

We begin by eliminating the distance between ourselves and our neighbors. Nothing will change as long as we are a nation of others. As long as I am on the side of right and everyone else is wrong, I am nothing more than a puppet of my chosen or ‘chosen for me’ ideology. We cannot continue as a divided people. As we grow closer we must become more involved. We will become more open. As we become more open, our society must, as a direct result, become more open.

The answer to this debacle is not simple or solitary. Just as the problem itself can not be isolated, neither can the solution. However, entering into dialogue, or the dialectic sort, can only serve to bring us closer together as human beings. By becoming more interconnected we must become more involved. As be become more involved we are no longer just a mass of sheep, but a force. We will become an open or a more open society.

*I must acknowledge that my ideas could never be called entirely my own. They are a culmination of my experiences with my own world, and my readings of the experience of others. I write this to acknowledge my understanding of my development as a part of a collective consciousness that is not entirely my own. My experiences have served to force me to open certain books at certain times that have either shaped me, or more likely, shaped my understanding of my own experience.

0105: It’s getting a little 1984 up in here

#education #revolution #totalitarianism #occupy #anonymous

As I watch and listen to the news, scroll through twitter feeds, read blogs, look at laws being passed, and noticing bits of education reform I can’t help noticing that it’s beginning to look a little like 1984, with a sprinkle of Huxley’s Brave New World. I don’t like to be an alarmist, but it seems as though alarms are being sounded, and then muted. I’m struggling to remain rational and calm. Reality is rather quickly morphing into dystopian fiction. Schools are massive training institutions that manage to insidiously undereducate the growing lower class. Teachers are kept busy and overwhelmed by testing and the fear of losing their jobs. Teachers have no choice but to numb their students with useless, disconnected knowledge. The middle class, what’s left of it anyway, has been kept entertained, comfortable, and apathetic for years. Just enough pay to get by and stay distracted. If that doesn’t work, the Doc can prescribe some pills. Kids are drugged too. If they won’t get in line, give ’em a pill. Books are being banned in schools in AZ. This is at least overt. Texts and concepts are overlooked by textbook companies, curriculum makers, and overwhelmed teachers. Omission is useful to avoid alarm. Arizona is just getting ballsy. There’s a move there to censor teacher’s language in and out of school I hear. Beyond the classroom, censorship, surveillance, and indefinite detention are popping up in the laws and the public. The world is abuzz with revolution and the powers at be trying to squash them before a tipping point is reached. I wrote with an awareness that there may be Hell to pay for my words an criticisms at some point. Of course, there’s no turning back now. Surely I’ve gone mad. I’ve read too much dystopian fiction. I’ve read too much about totalitarian regimes. Perhaps I’m becoming a real life Dale Gribble. But, I’m not confident in my perceived madness. I’m more doubtful everyday.

I’ve been told many a time: “If it looks like shit. Smells like shit. Then…”

With that in mind looks and smells are quite telling, and it seems that we’re all knee deep in shit.