PROFESSIONAL UNCERTAINTY, ANYONE?
I just read a stunning post by the very smart Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post about “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds“. Our first reaction to the disturbing sight of teachers passively cooperating with a professional development instructor’s stone-age “teaching” methods will be shock, shock. Watch it for yourself. It’s very short. Bet you can’t watch without your jaw dropping down to your platform shoes.
How could this be happening in 21st century America? “Sick!” was a comment.
Upon reflection, we might have another response. If we look at the video again and this time focus on the instructor rather than the teachers being “professionally” “developed”, something could happen. Listen to her voice. We could let ourselves feel the pain the instructor must be in. What would have her act in such a manner towards her fellow educators? I don’t just mean, can we empathize with her because maybe she’s a single mom just doing a job to support her kids. I mean could we let ourselves feel empathy for the instructor who has herself been educated like this, for the teachers she is brow-beating who also have been educated like this, and for all of society who have been instructed like this? Assuming she is not a psychopath, doesn’t the instructor do it because she doesn’t know what else to do? Do the teachers just sit there because they are mindless puppets? No. More likely, they can’t find words that won’t sound like they do not want to be “accountable”.
And neither can the collective we. If we knew what else to do, federal RttT funds could not be used to kickstart a bribing scheme to get states to adopt the CCSS and create one big mammoth 50-state handy education market for corporations to exploit.
We want to save public education. Yes. And. It’s public education that said OK to taking the candy from the baby. The mindset of accountability within public education as-we-know-it let the wolf into the hen-house. This is not about individuals, it’s about a collective mindset that continues beyond its shelf-life. Long after Arnie Duncan is gone, if the mindset is still there, brain neuro-plasticity illiterate teacher education methods will continue.
We all know it’s OK to be OK with not knowing. When we think we MUST do something, anything, we perpetuate what already always doesn’t work. Any act to further accountability furthers the myth of accountability.
If our education system is not comfortable with uncertainty then our teachers will not be comfortable with uncertainty (and we’ll continue to mentally flog them) and neither will our children and young adults (and we’ll continue to mentally flog them). But the future will nevertheless continue to be comfortable with uncertainty. Only the human species may not have the commensurate creativity, compassion and entrepreneurial core.
For good company in the space of kicking the high-stakes accountability habit together, I applaud Sarah van Gelder’s Yes! magazine for devoting an entire issue to the topic of “Education Uprising“. In it, Scott Nine ends a piece, “I Realized I Was Wrong” about Diane Ravitch and her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, by proposing we take a moment to think together for a while:
Scott writes: “To meet the challenges of the present and future, we need to name and nurture these efforts [as described in the "Education Uprising" issue] in as much detail and with as much attention as Reign of Error gives to the myths of the accountability movement.”
Lets just sit with it: If high-stakes accountability makes us go out of our minds, what would make us go into our minds? What is it about public education that we want to save? What part of our concept of public education might need to change if we want to protect the neuroplasticity of children and young people’s minds and their social-emotional vulnerability from politics and commerce? What if our education system were to keep requirements for social justice and add goals higher than winning the global war for jobs and innovation? What if curriculum, learning expectations, and instructional methods had to meet evidence-based neuro-scientific standards for how children and young people learn? What if the education system had to put supportive teacher care and healthy child maturation before all else? What if the money laid on the altar of the accountability myth were to go to profession development? How to form a learning and research community of autonomous peers? Plenty of neuroscientists, psychologists, nutritionists on hand to support teachers on site? How to apply mindfulness practice to your teaching practice? How to provide an emotional safety net so students can learn and teachers can teach? What if teachers learned that play is not just a leisure activity, but the only way to be on the same wave length as uncertainty?
Let’s watch “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds” again. This time reflecting on how the video shows why children and young people are – or soon will be – going out of their minds too. Yes, corporations should not feed off of children’s brains. The goals of education should not be determined by politics. But, why alone blame the cat? When we the people, civil society, willfully nap, why would we be surprised.
We should take our quantum physics seriously especially in education. Let’s apply something Heisenberg said, “…separation of the observer from the phenomenon to be observed is no longer possible …” to education. If we cannot separate the apparatus of high-stakes accountability (the “observer”) from the teachers and students under the microscope (the “phenomenon”), then we know with certainty that all that high-stakes accountability so changes the teacher and the learner that … who are they?