Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Days of "Stick To Teaching" Must Be Over

I saw Alice Cooper in Hollywood on his Brutal Planet tour. Alice is, was, and always will be great live, so there's no way I'm going to miss this show. I don't care who the opener is. In fact, I didn't even look to see who the opener was, so imagine my surprise when The Knack hit the stage. You might be thinking, "Who are The Knack?" They're one of those bands where you might not know their name, but you know at least one of their songs. You know all the words to at least one of their songs. After you find out what that song is it'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Here’s your pre-emptive you're welcome for that.

The Knack are playing away and all of us are patiently waiting for them to stop so Alice can die for our amusement yet again. They weren't bad. But they weren't special either. The Knack was The Thing Between Us And Alice Cooper. And we were getting tired of the barrier. So, right between two songs, in that dead moment of silence, when everyone in the arena including the band could hear it, a guy behind me shouts at the top of his lungs, "PLAY 'MY SHARONA' AND GET OFF THE STAGE!"

Education conversations can get like that guy. Play your hit, and shut up. We know the thing you do- you're the funny one, the coding one, the Google one- do your thing, stay in your lane. It is happening all over media right now. Sports writing and movie sites are going through the same transition. Like that Ringer headline says, we've reached the end of Stick To [Blank]. For a variety of reasons, social media and the immediacy of information is moving us out of our silos and forcing us to engage with the real world.

Which is good. Putting sports and movies aside, education is all about the real world. I've heard it dozens of times and so have you- "We're preparing our kids for the real world." But then we aren't confronting the real world like we should be. More importantly, we aren't confronting the poison in the profession.


Those are teachers. We work among them.  That's members of our profession talking about our kids in a public forum in the most disrespectful, racist way possible. When we silently agree to Stick To Teaching, we allow this to happen. We encourage it. Every time we don't call out hate we enable it. None of what I'm saying is new, but it should still be said again and again.

We are responsible.

We are responsible for so much. Education is a political act. Teaching critical thinking and problem solving, these are political acts. Maybe you don't see it that way, or don't want to see it that way, but the skills we are giving our students are much more likely to be used to parse the lies of an administration than to deconstruct a novel.

If we teach behavior standards and expect certain things out of our students, but don't call out adults like those above, we are hypocrites of the highest order. I will not tolerate bullying in my classroom. But because I'm a teacher I should stick to teaching and not confront other teachers? It's not a free speech issue either. Like xkcd explained so succinctly, free speech does not protect you from being called a racist for what you say. And don't argue racists deserve a chance to be heard. When someone is advocating the destruction of another group of people, you really don't need to hear them out. They aren't going to get to a point that makes you think, "Huh, you might be right." They'll just be spreading their hate, and you'll be letting them.

Silence is worse. Stick To Teaching encourages silence. It says look the other way and pretend that all things aren't connected and who you are outside of the classroom isn't who you are inside it. Silence is permission while being too scared to give it or to deny it.

It's on us. Personal responsibility for my students' learning, for their behavior in and out of my classroom is easy. It's expected. Personal responsibility for the fitness of the profession is also on us. I wonder why I don't hear more good cops decrying the actions of the bad ones. I know they're out there, but it makes it hard when I can't hear them calling out their fellows. The silence from the GOP every time 45 does or says something is deafening. We, teachers, need to be tasked with protecting the sanctity of teaching. We defend each other and we come for those who are openly, blatantly, joyfully against our students.

Just so my position on this is clear, I believe the teachers in that Facebook thread should be fired and their credentials removed. They are openly admitting that they do not create a safe environment for their students, that their students are not equal in their classrooms, and that they have remarkably low expectations of and remarkably high contempt for their students and their families. These are inexcusable.

Many teachers moved past Stick To Teaching a long time ago. The #educolor crew has been banging this drum and standing on the front lines alone for far too long. "But Doug, my admin watches my social media and they don't like me to be political." Ok, first- they don't want you to be calling out racists? They're worried your parents or students might see you calling out racists? Like that's bad? I get it though. Everyone speaks up in certain ways. Maybe being loud on twitter isn't your thing, that's fine. Unless, you know, you watch someone be awful and don't say anything. Then you're enabling. Do it in your own way.

But we now live in a world where Stick To Teaching can't be the only option. Don't say to other educators, "Man, I wish you'd just be funny and do your education stuff." Really? Tough. I wrote more songs than My Sharona. I’ll talk about the women’s march I went to with my students because we’re reading about the American Revolution and marches and protests are a part of our history. We’ll look at the Constitution for found poetry, a sneaky way to get them to read something they won’t have to read for years yet (plus doing black-out poetry on the Constitution reminds me of what this administration is doing to it, but I don’t tell them that.) And I’ll be loud on social media because I don’t know how not to be. Because I love this job and most of the people in it. And because we can always always always be better.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in longform. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

1 comment:

  1. In the many years I have been teaching, I feel like we, as teachers, have always been told to avoid being political in any way, shape, or form in the classroom. But within this past year, with the election of Trump, the appointment of DeVos, and my graduate diversity class, my eyes have been opened to how political education is and how much we, the teachers, must be political advocates each and every day. My current professor introduced me to the writings of Paolo Freire, and I have now spent months reading and researching social justice in the classroom. I feel that this is my call to arms in this mad political system. I must and will teach my students to think critically about the world in which they live, and I will do it in a loving environment - one in which I really am very funny.