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From Chuck Olynyk: How Much Of Your Teaching Will You Have To Give Up To Get Along At The “New” Fremont?

July 13, 2010

Below is a brilliant summary of the power struggle between who will control education: Will it be teachers, parents and students? Or will it be bureaucrats, education corporations and billionaires? So far the scale is tilting toward the latter.

“The schools will surely be failures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubbles on a multiple choice test, but unprepared to live fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens, and to make good choices for themselves, their families and our society.” Diane Ravitch -The Death and Life of the Great American School System.


The Answer’s In the Question
Posted by Chuck Olynyk on July 12, 2010 at 1:14 AM

Today is Sunday, July 11, 2010 and Day 16 PF, the PM version. World Cup’s over, Dodger game is on and I’m trying to drown out the idiot who keeps going, “Woo!” real loud by playing Bob Seger’s “Face the Promise.” The first two songs, “Wreck This Heart” and “Wait For Me,” are hitting particularly hard, as did my priest’s sermon today.

Not trying to inflict my faith—and sometimes lack of—on anybody. Funny, I’ll inflict my music tastes on you, my tastes in science fiction, comic books, TV shows, movies and music, but religion seems a bit different. Like I’m worried about alienating anybody, especially after my last two posts. People thought it funny that I’d become a church-goer, especially after my mother’s passing, but a friend in the SCA, Sir Basil, once took the cross I was wearing into his hand when we were talking about my mom in the nursing home (I’d snuck away for a sanity break, to watch one of my squires get knighted, and found myself in tears, seeing the friends I’d been torn away from by the circumstances); when Basil (which is also his mundane—legal—name) took the cross in his hands, he teared up and said, “You will find strength. You’ve always had strong faith.” I guess he was right. Funny how others see things in you that you never knew existed.

So when my priest delivered his sermon, he seemed to look right at me as he spoke about David and Goliath and how we all have giants we face. Maybe he did that because when he goes historical (which is what a lot of faith does, duh) he looks at the history teacher, whom he also cons into dressing up as a Rus from St. Vladimir’s time to walk around at our church’s Ukrainefest every October. But today Father Vasile kept speaking of seemingly unbeatable problems and foes, personifying them as Goliath. Perhaps I was looking at LAUSD and the evil reconstitution plan as Goliath. Or perhaps it is the way the media pretty much savaged teachers. Or maybe it was the apathy of the teachers who refuse to do a damned thing. I’m not certain, even right now as I sit at the bartop at Elephant Bar. But I know I felt better.

So I’m searching for a direction tonight. Maybe it’s just looking for a fight.

I know that teachers need to fight back. I keep hearing that in the core subjects the lessons are going to be coming out of a can. I have a problem with that, and it is not simply from a rebellious streak as wide as my back. When I object to that sort of thing, I keep envisioning fewer and fewer teachers objecting.

I remember all the bitching from a slew of English teachers when they were told by Mr. Higgins not to use novels, but the District-approved textbook. The cry of “Heretic” echoed up and down the halls. As someone who is an avid reader (there wasn’t much my parents would give me money for—like they had any, but if I ever wanted a book, it was mine—instantly), and remembering the novels I read in my English classes (“Invisible Man” was one of my favorites as a senior, but then I remember other novels, and I got Shakespeare in 9th, 10th, and 12th grade, as well as “The Iliad,” “Beowulf,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Hero of A Thousand Faces.” Imagine that being taught at Fremont?) I failed to understand how a subject that is about a love of literature could be taught without novels.

So you might understand my concern when I started following proposals for the new Texas Social Studies Standards back at the end of May. There was consideration for removing Thomas Jefferson from the Enlightenment curriculum because, as one board member put it, when Jefferson spoke of separating church and state, he “didn’t mean it” or “was wrong” and to replace him with John Calvin, because “the Founding Fathers were guided by religion.” Of course, Cynthia Dunbar, the board member in question, called public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion” and said of public schools they are “tyrannical” because they undermine the authority of families that was granted by God to direct the instruction of children.

On a personal note—ah, Hell, everything I write is a big personal note—one of the things I give my students is the history of the friendship of Jefferson and John Adams. Jefferson: tall, elegant, refined. Adams: short, loud, obnoxious (I like Adams, which always gets a laugh from my students, even as I describe him)—the Founding Fathers’ Mutt and Jeff. Best friends who created a nation together. Later, bitter political rivals. As old men, back to being best friends, because age usually gives you a sense of perspective and it always make me think about the friends I had parted company with, only to bury the hatchet years later.. On July 4th, 1826, exactly fifty years to the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed, Adams lay dying. His last words? “Jefferson still lives.” He didn’t know his friend Jefferson had died hours earlier. I have students tear up and talk about chills whenever I tell that. I don’t think there has been a single time I haven’t blinked back tears when I speak Adams’ last words, just as I never fail to do so whenever I watch “Henry V” and hear—or even read—the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon St. Crispin’s Day.”

In Texas, that’ll get glossed over.

There are other changes, such as the language used to describe the Moral Majority, the NRA (it is Texas, and even though I like guns…) and even how history views Senator Joseph McCarthy. Hey, maybe the Salem Witch Trials will get a makeover. Here comes the big one on “Extreme Education Makeover; the Texas Edition”: Calling the country’s slave trade the “Atlantic triangular trade.” Trying to gloss over the ugly parts of our past is dangerous. How many of you out there would approve of that sort of change?

And what will you do when you open up your can for the day you are going to serve up to your students? When will you object to RTI? At what point will the whitewashing of your curriculum become too much? Will it be okay if only a few object? As we once heard in a department meeting, “It’s time for you to join Team Social Studies or go find another team.”

Will you object only when a particularly treasured part of your curriculum is mandated away because “we’re going back to basics” and you’re living under the tyranny of teaching to the test, when you know in your soul that it is important the kids learn this? What else will we lose along the way in the whole teaching to the test culture we’ve seen develop? It ought to make you think: how many college-educated adults, who have to be highly qualified to keep their jobs (Remember, Mr. Balderas said he kept the cream of the crop, so you must be highly qualified) does it take to make an objection morally right?

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