Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"You're Wrong"

When a child says he's "four years old," my usual response is to say, "Me too!" to which he replies, "No you're not, you're a grown-up!" 

"Right," I say, in a calm, authoritative voice, "I'm a four-year-old grown-up. Then I'll have a birthday and be a five-year-old grown-up."

"No, Teacher Tom, you're old. Grown-ups aren't four-years-old."

I'll then trot out an explanation that sounds logic-like, often pretending to count off my points on my fingers, "I'm in preschool. Four-year-olds are in preschool, so I'm four. Next year I'll be five and go to kindergarten." 

If it's the first time we've run through this routine together, there will then be a pause as he works out the flaw in my argument, before saying something like, "You're a preschool teacher!"

"Right, I'm a preschool teacher, so I'm four. Then when I get to be five, I'll be a kindergarten teacher."

Depending on the kid, this might go on for several more rounds of me affecting a calm, rationale demeanor while asserting an absurdity, but it always ends in one of two ways: either the child loses interest and walks away or the child says, "You're wrong, Teacher Tom," and walks away. It's all part of my program of teaching children to question authority.

But, this is the way crazy stuff happens in America all the time: reasonable sounding people with measured voices assert something crazy, then stick to it no matter what, affecting what the comedian Stephan Colbert calls "truthiness," chuckling away all objections as if whatever one might say to contradict them is a product of naiveté. And we have a compliant media who provide soap-boxes to these deep-voiced snake oil salesmen, then, unlike the kids at Woodland Park, never challenge them, let alone just walk away.

On this day after Labor Day, I'm going to point out one such absurdity that is regularly being asserted by those so-called education reformers seeking to lower our nation's educational standards by focusing almost exclusively on grades, tests and homework: When it comes to teaching, experience doesn't matter.

This is, on its face, an absurd statement, yet it's one that all too often the talking heads, influenced by the calm truthiness of corporate charter school spokespeople and other neoliberal privatizers like Bill Gates, simply let stand without comment. Let's imagine if this were being said about other professions. Would anyone get away with asserting that experience doesn't matter when it comes to doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Would any sane person chose the inexperienced sky diving instructor over one with years of experience? This assertion doesn't pass the sniff test, yet it is one of the bedrock principles of the corporate education reform movement.

Of course, if you dig deeper, you'll find, as one does with just about everything asserted by these charlatans in their faith-based drive to turn our public schools into a kind of assembly-line factory, that the actual research demonstrates the opposite: teacher effectiveness is enhanced through experience. This, of course, is what any rational person would expect. I, for one, can say that after 15 years of going into preschool classrooms every day, I'm only now starting to feel like I have a real handle on it. My youthful enthusiasm was a good thing, it covered for many mistakes, but it is no replacement for experience.

So why are they doing this? Why are they asserting such craziness in their calm, authoritative voices? If they have no actual evidence that inexperienced teachers are better than experienced teachers, then what could be their motivation? (Italics and link added by me.)

The most obvious one is money. Experienced teachers simply cost more than their less experienced colleagues . . . But of equal importance is that experienced teachers are often the most vocal and impassioned voices for the rights of professional teachers . . . Do not underestimate how much the "reform" community loathes the role veteran teachers play in acting as the guardians of the professional rights of teachers. Much of the intellectual heft, and virtually all of the money, in the "reform" crowd comes from the financial and business elite. For example, when Wendy Kopp founded TFA (Teacher for America, the leading proponent of the "experience doesn't matter" meme) she did so by pitching her plan to Fortune 500 execs.

And what do Fortune 500 execs hate more than just about anything: a labor force that's confident enough and secure enough to stand up to their absurdities.

. . . (V)eteran teachers are confident enough in their convictions, and have a broad enough depth of experiences, to question the inherent value of "reforms," especially when said reforms are coming from people with scant, if any, classroom experience. What's more, they are fiercely protective of the profession, because they know that they are in it for the long haul. The part-timers will not fight, because either (a) they don't care because they're looking at the next rung of the ladder or (b) they're afraid. Neither of those things apply to veteran teachers, which is why they will fight. That's why the "reform" community views veteran teachers as a threat, and it explains why they are so interested in diminishing their value to the educational process.

And perhaps even more than teachers who can see through their act, they fear a citizenry able to listen their very superior tone of voice, look them in the eye and say, "You're wrong." That's an important democratic skill that only experienced teachers can teach.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love your 'questioning authority' posts.
Two books I think you might enjoy:
Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray
Farmer Duck by Martin Waddall
- Tareyn