Friday, August 1, 2008

Fed Up

I just caught, on MSNBC, another prominent politician once again bashing American teachers. The argument seems to be that, if teachers worked hard enough, all problems in our schools would be solved. What absolute balderdash!

Why do we just silently let these across-the-board statements of disrespect go unchallenged?

I'm so weary of this. Attacking workers instead of the cultural problems that have developed due to disparity of income and wealth . . . and the encouragement of the lowest common denominator in our mass media . . . in the most powerful nation in the world is downright dishonest. This scapegoat mentality does nothing to improve education. I would argue, instead, that our culture has become coarser because of the lack of ethical concern and behavior of the ruling class.

Public school teachers work within a system pretty much dictated by national and state law. The idea that school unions have some incredible power is, in my mind, ludicrous. Teachers do the best they can within the parameters of their environment. The teachers I know work hard . . . in many cases, even to the detriment of their own personal lives.

Reconfiguring the curriculum boxes and measuring student progress as if students were merely widgets in the economy is not the answer. A variety of causes have created an underclass that has lost hope for a better future and sees no good reason to work at something that will unlikely make a difference in their lives.

Want better scores? Eliminate student apathy!

Essential Question: How do we eliminate student apathy?

Photo Credit


Elona Hartjes said...

How do we eliminate student apathy?

That's a complicated question involving the programs school districts offer students, the specific interests of the students, the relationship between student and teacher, the support school gets from home and the community and the attitude of the student just to mention a few factors off the top of my head.

I believe that we need to adapt and change the 20th century model of education to meet the needs of the 21st century world. Using the new digital technology that is available that kids live with should be part of their life at school as it is as home.

As for eliminating student apathy, I don't know if we can ever eliminate it totally, but we can certainly reduce it.

Jim Burke said...

Hi Elona . . .

Thanks for the feedback. :) I'm curious . . . what changes would you suggest other than using the new digital technology? It seems to me that technology by itself offers no magical cure for apathy. In fact, it might very well be causing the apathy, don't you think? In other words, have human beings become any closer emotionally and physically with the advent of digital technology? If anything, I would argue we have grown more apart with lot of trivia on the surface and very little depth within.

What do you think?


Gary said...


How did you go from concern over teacher submissiveness to blaming all of the problems in public education on students?

I can tell you that NCLB would have been impossible in most countries. Teachers would have stood up and shut down the schools in opposition.

I recently took my son on a civi rights history tour of Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis and Little Rock.

The civil rights/voting rights protests in Selma were viewed by adults as the work of children and trouble-makers until TEACHERS rose up and demanded their franchise. Since teachers were held in such high esteem by the community and were willing to jeopardize their livelihoods for what was right, other adults followed. This action led quickly to Bloody Sunday, the march from Selma to Montgomery and ultimately the Voting Rights Act being signed into law.

I don't want better scores. I want better schools. They may be mutually exclusive, but who will educate the citizenry if teachers remain powerless?


Jim Burke said...


I don't think it was my intention to blame students for problems in public education. Yes, I see apathy, and yes, I think schools and/or education could be structured differently. It seems to be that observing an effect, a symptom if your will, is not synonymous with blame/cause. Denial of the apathy that exists does not further the argument that changes have to be made both in our culture and our schools.


Gary said...


I didn't make the pivot to student apathy. You did. Even that concern may fall into the category of a teacher's feeling of powerlessness or helplessness, which I believe are largely self-imposed.

I'm not denying student apathy. Who could possibly care about much of the school content and practices we enforce?

That said, I don't find it difficult to overcome student apathy. We didn't have this problem at all in our environment inside Maine's youth prison because we put the needs, interests, talents and curiosity of the learners ahead of a long arbitrary list of curricular topics.

There is a great deal we know about creating relevant, rich, productive contexts for learning that don't pander, but exceed what currently passes for standards.

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

Maybe we could address student apathy by changing society. No small task, I know. But if we can get students to understand that we as educators, parents, potential future employers, etc. care about THEM as people more than we care about their test scores and other results and products, maybe we could start to reach them more effectively. However, as long as public school employees are forced to bow at the altar of NCLB (or whatever new idea the rich old white guys in government say is going to "fix" education), this can never happen.

Students need to come fed, properly clothed, and emotionally stable to a school where they feel both physically and emotionally safe. They need to have the tools to learn about things that will really matter in the 21st Century job force. And they need to encounter teachers who are happy to be there and not worried about how they can stretch their next paycheck to cover the mounting costs of life on Planet Earth.

How realistic is it to have the education of our youth entrusted to people who can't set a good financial example of what it means to be a successful member of society? We don't get paid enough to provide that role model!

Like I said, not simple.

Jim Burke said...

I agree, Diane.


Joe Makley said...

I've been focused on high school reform lately, so I'd like to respond in that context. I think the secret to High School reform (addressing the disengagement that characterizes high school life for an important plurality of residents)lies in the long tail. The lettuce section of the grocery store provides a hint of the changes being requested by our society. It takes more work to provide and refresh 12 little bins of diverse greens, but that big tub of iceburg just isn't "engaging" the consumer anymore, so retailers have to do it. There is no way to "fix" the old monolith so it is 'transformational" for every student in the same way. The fix lies primarily in choices and personalization, and I would argue that (at least at the high school level) this includes systems, places, organizational structures, etc., not just techniques within classrooms. I think technology is an essential leverage point in addressing this need.
I certainly agree on your central point that teacher bashing is unfair, because teachers work in a system that is defined by legislative action, primarily.