Let’s cut to the chase: based on all I’ve written so far about education, teachers appear to be no more than unwitting tools of a concerted, ongoing, 200+ year effort to make students stupid, docile and utterly predictable. And, insofar as teachers are products of the education schools and are part of the education bureaucracy, they, too can be relied on to be stupid, docile and utterly predictable.
Is this accurate? Is this fair?
We all, I presume, had teachers we loved. I loved my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers. Can’t say I loved any of my high school teachers, but I respected a couple of them. These were teachers whose obvious love for the students managed to overcome, to some extent, what they were systematically doing to them.
But most of my teachers? Stupid? Well, yeah – too stupid to question why it was a good idea to teach kids as a class when in fact they could clearly see that some kids were way, way ahead of the lessons, some were merely ahead, some were behind – and a majority were bored and uninterested. They were stupid enough to keep doing the same things over and over and over again despite reality – a reality that demonstrated to everyone with eyes to see that kids learn different things at different paces, and that the whole idea of an age-based class was contrary and violent to the human nature and dignity of the kids.
A typical kid, if such exists, may at any one time find fractions impossible but read several grade levels ahead, or be great at kickball but terrible at relating to other kids, or have trouble writing legibly but be able to do long division in their head, or any other of a million combinations of talents, interests and skills that help make them a unique human being but defy any meaningful classification into a ‘class’.
How can anyone be so blind? Aren’t teachers idealistic people who love kids and have a burning desire to teach? What could possibly turn such people into mindless cogs? Teachers are not just the managers of a process – they are products of the process as well. Education schools are renowned for their irrelevant classes, stifling bureaucracies, pointless busywork and failure to prepare their graduates for what to expect in a classroom. An education degree does not prepare one to teach math, or science, or history or English – it prepares you to be an educator.
Think of education school as first and foremost a filter: it filters out people with a low tolerance for all those things listed above – hate bureaucracy, busy work, and wasting time? Is your sense of justice offended by arbitrary rules? Is teaching math or English more important to you than being an ‘educator’? Then you will most likely be filtered out.
This leaves us with more or less docile teachers, who will follow the orders themselves and impose orders on the kids, no matter how mindless or counterproductive those directives may be. The potential troublemakers have been largely filtered out.
Think I’m just making this up? Do you know any former teachers? What do they say about it? If you don’t know any former teachers, you could read John Taylor Gatto.
So, we end up with many teachers who are stupid – in the sense of impervious to learning from their environment; docile – in the sense of willing to follow orders without question; and predictable – in the sense that they are very unlikely to do anything unplanned. Well? Does this seem true to you? Compare this to reality for yourself. Note that all this does not mean there won’t be the occasional maverick, or that the love of children may not survive on some level, or even that teachers aren’t perfectly nice people. But I challenge you: for every real maverick in a school, a person who does the right think even when it is ‘against the rules’, who treats kids as human beings with dignity, whose love of learning breaks out of the bureaucratic box, there are 9 who will conform with varying degrees of bitterness, whose contempt for their students (and, especially, their parents) is palpable, or who have long ago given up any ideals and are just putting in time until they can retire.
Or who move into administration as fast as they possibly can.
This is the nature of giant bureaucracies. This is what it means on the ground when you set ‘national standards’. This is what the architects of the school system have always wanted.
The usual fallback: that’s what school *IS*! It’s definitional! It has to be that way! No, it doesn’t. One-room schooling, where millions of Americans were educated, practiced in over a 100,000 schools for a century or more in this country, recognized this fact: that children learn in different ways and at different times. So, the teacher was in charge of a group of mixed ages, and her job (it was almost always a young woman) was to see where each child stood, assign a peer to teach them what they needed to know, and then, by means of ‘recitations’ – the child coming up to the teacher and reciting what they had learned – determine what progress was being made. In this way, children got to both learn and teach, got to see that they were a valuable part of the community, and got recognized as unique individuals.
One room schools achieved a remarkably superior level of education (just look at the readers they used and the math they had to do) with much lower ‘inputs’ – much fewer classroom hours and much less homework. They were also under the complete and immediate control of the local families that supported them.
One room schools were the enemy of the scientific graded schools. They had to go. For one thing, the teachers were amateurs, not trained educators. They were known to and hired by the families whose kids were to be taught, meaning they had no loyalty to the high-minded concepts of Fichte and Horace Mann. They just wanted the kids to know enough to govern themselves, run their farm, and be responsible members of their community.
In conclusion: teachers in compulsory graded schools are not evil. What they do is.