Monday, June 27, 2016

There Are Some Who Just Want Us To Shut Up

I sometimes wish that teaching could happen in a kind of vacuum, with just me, the kids and their families playing and learning and figuring out how to get along with each other, but it's not like that, and every teacher knows it. We live in the world and to the degree that it enters our classroom we are obliged to talk about it.

Last week, I was a guest on the Shakin' Bones podcast with Amy Ahola and Dan Hodgins where we discussed how we work with children when frightening things happen in the world. We thought it would be a timely topic in the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, but honestly, it would have been timely after any given week, day, or even hour. That's because the children we teach live in this world and even if the tragedy isn't something that makes international news, we hear sirens almost every day; we know people who are sick or hurt or just having a hard time; we notice the window at a local business is broken or we see a car accident or a fire or a raccoon that was hit by a car. Or maybe a dog has run away. Each is tragic in its way and because they happen in the world, they come right into our classrooms.

I would be remiss to not also point out that the same could be said of exciting things, sad things, happy things, and things that make us angry.

As play-based educators, our curriculum is built upon the parts of the world the children bring with them each day and it's important that we are prepared to discuss them, honestly, with the children. It's important that we listen at least as much as we talk. And it's important that none of us be muzzled. Of course, this is true.

And that also goes for things that come into our classrooms by means other than the children as well. The world has a direct impact on our children every day even if they aren't fully aware of it. For instance, in North Carolina:

Last week, a group of three dozen teachers marched in Raleigh in an effort to draw attention to the appalling lack of basic education materials available in their classrooms. When Governor McCrory refused to meet with them, 14 of these dedicated educators were arrested for sitting down in the street in protest.

This was a righteous action from what I understand. The teachers were protesting chronic underfunding of schools so dire that they were often being required to turn to private fundraising appeals for things like text books and other basic curriculum supplies. Not an uncommon story in America. Seattle's public school teachers went strike last year over funding issues as well as the fact that some schools were providing only 15 minutes of recess a day for elementary school students. Every day teachers from Los Angeles to New York and Chicago to Dallas are speaking out on behalf of our children.

Naturally, there are some who just want us to shut up. In North Carolina, the legislature is considering a bill that would make it cause not only for dismissal, but for a revocation of one's teaching license, to engage in any act of civil disobedience, no matter how righteous:

But the inclusion of Article 36A . . . means that individuals who have been arrested for protesting the lack of textbooks and toilet paper in North Carolina schools could be denied teaching careers, and those already teaching could potentially have their licenses revoked due to such an arrest . . . Imagine the cruel irony of social studies students who are learning about the Greensboro sit-ins losing their teacher in such a manner.

Of course, it could be worse. In Mexico they are killing teachers for speaking out.

The currency of every classroom is truth and the only way to discover truth is through the freedom to talk and listen openly with one another. As much as we wish the world would stay outside our walls, it can't because ultimately education is useless without it and we are of it. When I was standing on the picket line at Ballard High School last fall in solidarity with our local public school teachers, a guy rolled by in his car and shouted, "Shut up and teach!" We can do one or the other, but not both.

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