I am watching the 70’s series, Roots, for the first time. We just received the first disc of the series in the mail and finished watching it. I am saddened by the history of our country and that of Africa. How savagely we disregarded the life of someone else; their value as a human being. And while watching, this one particular part struck me as eerily similar to what is happening in our education world.
Do you notice how the captain, Ed Asner, does not really believe in slavery? And yet he, literally, turns his back on it? Not wanting to see what his silence is doing to the kidnapped Africans? How is that any different to what happens in schools across the country with mandates for more testing, more kill and drill, and more results? Yet so many of us ‘in the trenches’ just go along with it. Not saying anything. Not doing anything about it. We act like Ed Asner when he tells Slater to clean up that so that these kidnapped folk are treated with some humanity. We throw in a fun activity on the sly. Or we close our door so no one knows we are not really teaching to the test.
Do you notice how Slater, the ‘slave handler’, just what these kidnapped Africans need. A statement he keeps repeating in a braggadocios manner. Humanely, he so does not. Sound familiar? Someone who hasn’t been inside a classroom for who knows how long (if ever) telling you exactly what you need to do for your kiddos to succeed. And success in their mind is raising test scores; prove they are learning on a standardized test. And all those suggestions do is bore the kiddos to death creating a myriad of problems.
Then there are the kidnapped Africans, soon to be slaves. Once on deck Kunta-Kente can’t see land. The men scream when water is thrown on them and their open wounds. The women cry out when they see the men in a weakened, groveling state. Just like our students do when they enter the doors and see yet another worksheet. Have to take yet another test. Have to sit and listen to yet another lecture. They feel as if there isn’t any hope. Wondering if they will ever engage in real learning. The learning they used to engage in as infants and toddlers. A friend of mine engages her five-year-old son in authentic experiments and field notes. I worry whether he will have the same opportunities as he progresses in school.
How about when Slater starts screaming at the slaves to dance and jump? “Get them up!” He yells. The captured dance. With vengeance in their eyes and words. That’s what so many of us are told every day, “Get those scores up! Make them do their best!” And what do our students do? They revolt. They act out. They wander around the room. They argue with each other. They refuse to complete tasks. One of my previous students did just that on a Writing Prompt. He wrote, but demanded to know what the point of it was, and stating that it makes him hate writing because he is told what to write about and that it has no impact on his future. May sound dramatic, but this is from a nine-year-old.
If you are someone who is not in a situation like this, then you are fortunate. You are fortunate to have autonomy in what you teach. You are fortunate to know you can firmly stand up for your beliefs. Sadly, this is becoming a reality for more an more. Creativity not allowed, unless it is withing a specific set of criteria (which then makes in not creativity). Individuality wiped out replaced with teacher clones. Thousands, millions, of children lost in what is deemed to be learning today.