thinking between the lines

Education Reform as Epic Tragedy

If I didn’t know better, I would say those of us living in the Land of Education are trapped in an epic tragedy where hubris-filled heroes recklessly identify and destroy the “monsters” responsible for the people’s current state of misery. Maybe the story would go something like this…

In the Land of Education, the people quaked in fear as rumors of their impending doom spread throughout the kingdom. It was only a matter of time before neighboring warriors descended upon them, making them low-cognitive servants in their own land. Surely the gods, those responsible for structuring academic goals, were fashioning someone to come to the people’s rescue, someone who harbored no fear, a leader eloquent of tongue and heroic in deeds who could slay this elusive monster devouring the students of the kingdom.

[enter Michelle Rhee and fellow ed-reform warriors]

Hear ye, hear ye, my fellow citizens. I have traveled long (2 years) and hard (1 grade level) through the halls of education and return to you today with lips of truth. If we are to survive as a worthy kingdom of scholars, we must slay those who are enslaving our young to the monster of mediocrity. We must purge our kingdom of ineffective teachers, and to do so, all teachers must be subject to trial by fire!    

Ms. Rhee, the founder of StudentsFirst, has been drawing millions of dollars from her organization to accomplish just what I’ve described above – ok, with a little less drama, but not by much. She has many weapons in her arsenal, but one of the shiniest is the push to evaluate teachers according to students’ standardized test scores. She claims such appraisals are the perfect way to “elevate” teaching and rid the schools of ineffective teachers. Evidence, however, suggests otherwise.  According to MetLife’s recent “Survey of the American Teacher,” the current climate of education has dropped teacher morale to its lowest point in 25 years and decreased teacher job satisfaction by 15 points in just three years.

If the era of teacher accountability brought on by education reformers is supposed to “elevate” teaching, why then are teachers feeling so demoralized and dissatisfied? Could it be they’ve been identified as the monster of the kingdom, and the only way to survive the empowered hero’s sword is to play along in a game that goes against everything they know to be true and good about teaching? You call that a no-win situation, and it is the perfect formula for a dissatisfied, demoralized workforce, just what we are well on our way to achieving in our schools.

The story, however, doesn’t have to end here with the inevitable death of the identified monster. Sure, when teachers can no longer find moral worth in what they do, can no longer stomach the idea of drilling students with test prep, can no longer draw vital energy from knowing they’re making a real difference – they die, and the story ends. But that’s not all there is to an epic tragedy. The hero in the story, in spite of remarkable intelligence, strength, boldness, and cleverness, is also brimming with hubris, an overestimation of self that causes him/her to overlook or discount some type of fatal flaw?

What am I saying? I’m saying… Dear Teachers, this story isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. If you don’t believe me, go to The Network for Public Education. You’ll see an army amassing that may very well be the force Ms. Rhee has overlooked – real teachers, sharing real stories, discussing real solutions, who can spot a fake a mile away.

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1 Response »

  1. For the past 20 years, I’ve been teaching high school literature in a New Jersey high school.

    I agree that teacher morale has dropped significantly; however, mine has not been tarnished because of a test I may or may not be required to teach to. My morale has dropped because I am indeed considered a “monster” by the surrounding community – not because I am a bad teacher, but because I am a teacher. It’s my impression and opinion, that most consider teachers incompetent simply because they are teachers.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

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