Backstory

I’ve spent most of my life in classrooms, from Sunday school to kindergarten through college, then another few decades on the other side of the desk. Now, I’m on the verge of getting out from behind a desk, which is a shift I don’t know how to make.

But there’s so much that I haven’t learned–and so much that I didn’t have time to teach. This blog is my beta attempt at documenting and sharing what I’m working on and thinking about.

Many of the pieces on here are from previous blogs, previous writings, previous lives–but they are all part of the long and winding road.

ABOUT ME  (from 2010)

My experience is skewed, and my attitudes are too: I’ve lived in a small town in Ohio for much of my life, but not the small town of Andy Griffith and Aunt Bea. My small town has all the disadvantages of big cities–high poverty, drugs, high crime and gangs, thriving underclass–and none of the advantages of big cities. My students are almost two hours away from zoos, museums, concerts, or most of the markers of civilization (although the local hospital recently got a small Starbucks in the lobby, so maybe I’m exaggerating our isolation).

The high school I teach at is the alleged setting for the show Glee, but the fictional school Mr. Shu teaches at is nothing  like the reality. We have over 50% minority–African-American except handful of Hispanic kids–no Jewish students, no Asian– and about 80% poverty rate. The Glee dramas are laughably routine at my school: neither the cheerleader’s pregnancy, nor the kid doing time in juvy, nor the gay student, would be unusual enough to merit the drama at my school.  The show got one thing right: we do have a kick-ass music department. Other than that, though….

I have taught drama, yearbook, newspaper, and every level of English imaginable. I’ve been more successful as a grantwriter than as a teacher, if data is all that matters. I’ve attended more workshops than I can count, and led my share of professional development, too. I’ve been on the front line in the classroom for well over 20 years, and I’ve been the victim of rampant reform efforts designed by well-intentioned but clueless people more often than is moral (I’m generous in calling them “well-intentioned;” I don’t believe that in many cases).

So my writing is filtered through the prism of my experience. I haven’t had the luxury of students who come to school  ready and able to focus on school, with parents and home lives that support and prioritize education. Maybe some teachers have the Glee kids sitting in their desks; that teacher’s column would probably be much more uplifting and inspirational. If I find that blog–I’ll send you there. Reading that would leave you with a fresh, minty taste in your mouth. That’s really not where I am, so consider this your warning.

Some of the articles on this site are from my old education-related site, “The Soft Bigotry”

The quote about “The soft bigotry of low expectations” from George Bush resonated with me when I first heard him say it about No Child Left Behind–which is rife with its own expectations, teeming with rampant bigotry that is at least as damaging and defining as the attitudes he was decrying.

The “Soft Bigotry” that is now standard operating philosophy includes some of the following:

  • Education is only good if it’s college-prep; even the kids who choose a tech-prep track (vocational, you might call it), are expected to also be preparing for at least a two year college; in my experience, though, the system is set up to push all kids (yes, even special ed) towards a four year college.
  • Middle class and upper middle class values are assumed; of course, students who have different experiences and backgrounds are eager to embrace the middle/upper class values, and just need the opportunity to achieve;
  • Students should be well-rounded, given (or pushed) into a plethora of activities and coursework….excelling at one thing is not a virtue if you aren’t doing at least some of everything.
  • Tests are an effective, valid measure of learning and achievement.
  • Anything that matters can be quantified; if data can’t be easily extrapolated, it doesn’t matter.
  • Collaborative, project-based authentic learning is essential; students will work in teams in their work-life; they should learn and be assessed in teams as students, completing projects with real-life ramifications. Teacher-lead classes, lectures, and worksheets are ineffective and outdated.
  • Unions are bad. Good teachers don’t support the unions, because the unions support bad teachers.
  • Most importantly: It’s the teacher’s fault. It doesn’t matter what the topic under discussion is; the best teachers walk on water and inspire geniuses while the rest of us are held responsible for all the ills in education—no, really, in society, since schools are a microcosm of society.

There are probably more examples of the “soft bigotry” of education in today’s America, but off the top of my head…that’s a good introduction. And some of those ideas, I support. Just not as absolutes. Kids aren’t widgets, and schools are not factories. Soft bigotry—it exists. And Bush, and now Obama, have done more to formalize and institutionalize it than most people–people who don’t teach poor and minority students in a “failing” district, who haven’t seen “reform” close up–would ever imagine.

One thought on “Backstory

  1. Very accurate account and great lead in to a blog! Being from the same city and going through the city schools myself, I can say with confidence that you nailed it. Also having a parent who taught in the system I understand many of these issues from both the student and teacher perspective.

    I’m looking forward to more! 🙂

    Like

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