June 24, 2009
The Educator as Bureaucrat
By Debbie Scally
Are teachers turning into classroom cops?
Since ancient times, the teacher has been the bearer of what, to me, is a sacred trust. It is our privilege, and our trial, to be trusted with collectively shaping the minds of our students, from elementary school all the way through the dissertation process. And it does not stop there. We are all teachers and students; learning is a lifelong process. But for those of us who are teaching/learning in a formal academic setting, that trust is slowly being compromised, and it is not because of how well we are teaching.
It has always been the duty of the bureaucrat to standardize, be the bean-counter, calculate percentages, and try to fit square pegs into round holes. In fact, this duty is in exact opposition to the duty of the educator. The essence of our title, from the Latin educare, is to be the one who draws out and brings forth the potential in each of our students in a way that is best for him or her, using the style and methods that are the best for each of us as individuals as well. But we are being ever so carefully bent and twisted away from that job and into becoming the enforcers for the bureaucrats, the standardizers of education (as if that were even possible), the classroom cops and general all around bad guys, just to suit the agendas of the corporate mind-set.
Now, this is not about course content; it is clear that no matter what his/her career or lifetime goals might be, the student needs a core body of knowledge that can help him/her navigate the vast seas of the wide wide world outside of school. We all need grounding in the 3 Rs and basic technological savvy. My issue, and fear, is that schools are trying to standardize the way we teach what we teach as well as what we teach in the classroom because they are at cross-purposes with the true meaning of education. We must now all use the same tests; we must use the same syllabus template; we must use the same books; we must turn a deaf ear to pleas for leniency (granted, we get milked on this one on a day to day basis – consider how many close relatives tend to die when papers are due! Still there are times when it is called for). We are supposed to graduate future employees - fodder for the corporations, not well-rounded, fully educated human beings with critical thinking abilities.
I do not believe I am being paranoid here. Look at what is already in place to hammer students into square pegs: SACS, TAKS, SAT, CAAP tests, and whatever other acronyms apply to whatever state where one teaches. Teachers can no longer do their real jobs without kowtowing to the mighty acronym. In my bleaker moments, I suspect we will all end up one day like Socrates – forced to drink hemlock (or its equivalent) because the powers that be don’t like the way we teach. And we are firmly reminded every day that there is a long line of potential employees waiting to take our places if we don’t bow low enough, if we do not become complicit in rounding the edges of those in our classrooms. If we are not tenured – and fewer of us are these days – we had better be on the lookout for job openings 24/7!
Fortunately, my bleaker moments seldom occur in the classroom. I reserve those for the sleepless nights and grading marathons. I generally really like and care about my students and about being there to draw forth their potential. It is always worth it when I can see that glimmer in a student’s eyes that says “I get it.” I just don’t ever want to be in a position to dampen that experience for any emerging human being.
I'm a college English teacher working on my dissertation. I am an anime junkie and a Shakespeare scholar, a voracious reader and a political rebel.