"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman
Monday, February 7, 2011
Be Less Stupid
I have some severe misanthropic tendencies. My initial response to most problems is that people are stupid. I think that if people (other people, not me) weren’t such idiots all the time we wouldn’t have traffic jams, long lines, or computer viruses. So my views about children (other people’s children, not mine) are not personal, but if you ever asked me why I’m a teacher, I would never answer anything like, “Because I just love kids.” I teach for other reasons.
I decided to major in English before I graduated from high school. I loved to read, had some skill with a pen, and relished a rousing discussion of ideas. At one point before graduation, I visited my favorite middle school teacher and told her I wanted to major in English. She frowned and said, “I guess you’re going to be a teacher, then.” (And this was 15 years before the stunning initial aria from Avenue Q: “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”)
I don’t know if Mrs. Cathcart’s comment was the first time I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but since that point, that’s where I was headed. I probably didn’t really know why until I was actually in charge of a class for the first time. Student teaching sucked and that’s another post, but I realized before that year was up that I had a lot of responsibility in my hands. Power, in fact. And that came with an obligation to do good. Great power. Great responsibility. Blah blah blah. Spider-man made it trite, but I believe in my opportunity to change the world.
Diane Ravitch says, “Without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate, and reason.”
This encapsulates why I teach. I want people to be less stupid.
But we don’t teach these things any more. What I mean is that the way we teach now, we are not asking the students to engage, to reason, to think. Especially in English. Instead we now teach literacy: reading and writing in an extremely general fashion, giving students lots of choice and encouragement, but rarely employing active thinking and discussion. There’s the widespread belief that if a student is given the choice of what to read, for example, that eventually they will choose to challenge themselves by reading something like Shakespeare or Poe or Colbert. And to be honest, I have had a student or two try out Macbeth or “The Fall of the House of Usher” or I Am America and So Can You, but to be honest again, they couldn’t even explain what the title might mean, let alone comprehend the subtleties of the text.
Education is in trouble. People are stupid.
This is the first installment of comments stemming from Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. This book came out about a year ago, so I know that I’m late to the party like usual, but Ravitch elucidates hundreds of different arguments about the how the popular ideas of choice and accountability are affecting our schools. And I have hundreds of thoughts about those thoughts. So expect more on this. Stay tuned. Stay smart. Stay gold, Ponyboy.