Educated to Death

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

Category: revolution

0172: The Sullied Good We Do: Teachers as Cogs in the Machine #education #revolution

educatedtodeath.com

By the very nature of our position as teachers we have the ability to do many wonderful things. We equally have the power to do great harm, with or without intention. Our system of compulsory education is at the very least imposing, beyond that it serves to colonialize and massify every soul that passes through its machinery.

These statements and ideas are bothersome as they serve to split me, the teacher and human, in half. They indict me of some unconscious atrocity committed at whim my own hands. Further, by making such statements I run the risk of alienating myself from anyone who finds them as offensive as I do, and guarantee that I will be misunderstood on some level. But, I believe the duality of our profession holds truths well worth bearing witness to. To not notice the dual nature of what we do would be negligent. By understanding it better and our role within it, we are better able to disrupt what needs disrupting and bring forth our more valuable attributes.

My intent is not to expose some conspiracy by some powerful few; rather, I want to understand my role in a system that functions beyond the intention of the pieces that work within it. It’s a system that is both benevolent and useful, and equally harmful. There are aspects that enlighten and liberate, and suppress and colonialize. Unfortunately, as the tiniest pieces of this machine, teachers, it is not always possible to decide how our duties will be carried out, besides outright rebellion.

I debate whether I should provide a laundry list of specific characteristics of the machine, its cogs, and their functions. I think this would be trite, as we all have our own understandings that hopefully are perpetually changing. The truth I put forth is simply that, my understanding of the truth. I challenge you as a teacher, human, thinker to examine your understanding of your role within the system. Be honest in seeking the good you do, and the atrocities, no matter how small, you commit. Honest reflection is a means purging and pruning anything unnecessary or ill.

I will make one solid indictment of the system, its teachers, and consequently myself: all children are not served equally; some experience great gains, others have experiences that are detrimental to the educational, personal, and public lives.

As we are cogs in a machine, so is the education system. Blame and intention are too minute to tease from the grand playground. Disrupt what you can, and be conscious.

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

educatedtodeath.com

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

@educatedtodeath
educatedtodeath.com

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.

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

@educatedtodeath

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?

0146: #Education, Big Words, and a Concerted Effort #occupyedu #SOSchat #inequality

educatedtodeath.com
@educatedtodeath

I have, perhaps, sullied our interaction by not offering you a window into my classroom. I’ve offered the impression of looking into other windows and unfairly describing the experiences of others. I do not wish to ever make light of the successful and hopeful experiences of others.

Unfortunately, some points cannot be made, in order to be clarified, without making some generalizations and accusations, at least at my skill level. While there are places that offer children who live well below the poverty line an equitable education, there is a plethora of others that do not. This is not to say that there aren’t teachers giving their all and busting their asses to maneuver around and through multiple impasses. Teachers, principals, and communities often do incredible things with meager resources. Many are able to do these amazing things despite punitive and restrictive top-down measures. Schools are people not buildings. I’ve taught in schools where I could see the dirt through holes in the floor, with no heat or A/C. The teachers were dedicated and gave less than a rats ass about just appeasing auditors. However, changes had to be made to ensure the school remained open, jobs were maintained, etc. Some tightening of the belt was needed, and the school began to more closely resemble a test factory. Teachers and students were dealt with more harshly. This is not an uncommon practice—not just in schools where I’ve been, but anywhere schools are in trouble. Perhaps, I digress.

I will make the commitment to you, dear reader, to open my window a little wider. And, I will commit to sharing the things I see, hear, and begin to understand. A system cannot change if we worry too much with niceties. Education, in many places for many people, is inequitable. Equally society is inequitable. We have a third world hiding in our backyards. Many do not see it. We continue to live in a place that has a significantly fossilized system of segregation. Education systems are a part of this and will continue to be until _______. Continue to offer your scrutiny and your experiences— they’re far more conducive to generating thought and change than peer review and higher institutions. It is only through authentic human interaction that we change. I, in turn, will continue to grow and learn. We must tell our stories, the story, a story. We must push, complain, fight, agree…until we find a place for all our children, people, neighbors, and anyone else seen or not. It’s up to us. Cheers.

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

@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath

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

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@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath
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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.

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

educatedtodeath.com
@educatedtodeath

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.