When I first entered the world of education as a freshman in college, teaching was all about reaching my students, making connections, conveying knowledge and creating exciting learning opportunities for them.  I spent a month in Tohatchi, New Mexico teaching at a boarding school on the Navajo Reservation.  This experience opened my eyes to all of the politics surrounding education.  The history of boarding schools, the socio-economic status of Native Americans, societal issues, cultural issues, it was all in my face.

It didn’t stop there.

When I entered my first teaching position in Philadelphia I was exposed to how political education was.  I am still saddened at how education has become a pawn in the politics game.

Whether it’s unions versus school boards or government officials who run on the “hold bad teachers accountable” platform just because it’s in style. Whether it’s our own Secretary of Education and President touting charter schools as the fix-all for public education while local neighborhood schools are depicted as chaotic, dangerous places of little learning or their condoning of blanket firings of teachers in Rhode Island while teachers blast them for these actions and words.

Politics has even pitted teachers against each other as states applied for Race to the Top money, a political agenda created to make big government appear to be taking a stand for ‘better education.’

Unions stand strong against any kind of change in ‘how things are done’ in fear of giving an inch and losing a mile. Sometimes it is necessary to get with the times and realize that things can’t always be how they always were.  I am of the opinion that my own union traded a benefits package deal for signing the Race to the Top paperwork when negotiating our new contract.  Many of the new contract stipulations were right out of the RTTT wording.

These are the real reasons why innovation and meaningful change seem so unattainable these days.

When I was a child I figured, when I became an adult, that everything would make sense. I figured that adults would be just, fair, level-headed and mature.

What I discovered was that adults are often senseless, unfair, irrational and immature.

I have accepted the fact that my profession of choice is politically charged whether I like it or not. My position, however, will be as it always is. I will side with my students’ best interests and I won’t pick sides blindly and I will stay open to all viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not.

I challenge you to do the same.

18 Comments

  1. Brian Cohen

    Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly. I am aggravated every day when I see the system of education in Philadelphia stopping the actual education in Philadelphia. For example, the Corrective Math curriculum was implemented by the School District without consultation with the central math department coordinator downtown – that seems silly to me. Why have someone in that job when you are not going to use their expertise? Politics, unfortunately. I really wish children would truly be considered first.

  2. Gerald Aungst

    Reply

    People often complain about politics getting in the way of things, and not just in education. I agree that the political process can often get bogged down and that special interest ideas can make us lose sight of the bigger picture sometimes. OK, may most times. But consider that we live in a country that allows us to have a political process, and where everyone's voice–whether we agree with it or not, or whether it even has validity or not–has the right to be heard.

    As I get older, it occurs to me that any endeavor that involves more than one human being will inevitably involve politics. While it can be disheartening and frustrating at times, I'm not sure I could live with a system that didn't permit the conversation and even the lobbying for a point of view to be heard. What are our alternatives?

  3. Reply

    Great points, Gerald.

    I shouldn't take for granted the freedom to debate, disagree and speak our minds. However, from this week's #edchat discussion is apparent that many teachers don't feel comfortable speaking their minds for fear of losing their jobs.

    I don't pretend to be apolitical, and I tend to have a big mouth, so thanks for the reminder that I am blessed to live in a nation where this is an unalienable right.

  4. Reply

    Anyone that reads my blog will note that I am doing that very thing. I am not beholden to anyone's interests but my own and my students. I am perhaps among the few that can truly say that, because you won't find me sharing any stages with hustlers commercially profiting from so-called "innovative education" movement. By taking my students' interests to heart, doesn't mean that I just submit to their whims. I approach how I teach as a PARENT first, and a very stern one at that, who is naturally skeptical and suspicious of outsiders.This brings me to the subject of Ms. Hertz, whom I consider to be committed and compassionate with her heart in the right place. However, in my view, I note a clash between her intention and her actions. I believe if someone truly cared for children, they would not be so enthusiastically behind this movement to fill kids' laps with what amounts to an electronic equivalent of a narcotic, that is, something that's highly addictive and costly to maintain over an extended period of time. I'm observing too many schools investing in trendy gadgets (i.e. smart phones, iFads, etc) that merely serve to plunge kids into a kind of acceptable level of compliance under the guise of "getting their attention." To me, this is no different that putting a kid on Ritalin because they're "acting out." In all seriousness, I regard some of the individuals involved in the recent 140 Conference (who weren't teachers, by the way) to be nothing short of contemptible. They passionately express their concern for kids when in reality, all they care about is their business bottom line. I've been around business types for far too many years and I can spot a huckster a mile away. My concern is that there are not enough teachers seeing this sham for what it is, because they are either too good hearted, or trusting, or just too darn desperate that they'll try anything to make the job of teaching less painful.

    I consider business people as dangerous as politicians. Why is there so much disruption in government these days? It's because the corporations have taken it over. Hence, I can't trust any politician or business person because they all have the same aim, to sell you something.
    A-B-C … Always Be Closing (David Mamet, "Glengarry GlenRoss")

  5. marybethhertz

    Reply

    Mark,
    I find your comments about technology interesting as you are a blogger yourself and comment on this blog frequently! I think you may be happy to know that we technology integrators are well aware of how poorly technology can be applied in the classroom. Yes, you can use technology as a 'gadget' or a motivator, OR you can use it as a tool to achieve a goal or different way to allow a child, especially one who might have been labeled or diagnosed with some kind of learning disability to show what they know in a way that they are successful.

    As for the #140 character conference, all of the education panels included teachers. Teachers that I know personally very well! They are passionate about kids and learning (and they are all PARENTS!), and they are wary of using technology just for the sake of the 'cool factor.' The other panelists were not there for education, and many of them were marketers or business people as you mentioned.

    As far as technology being a costly investment, so were calculators, overhead projectors, PENCILS, chalk, chalkboards, all of which at some point were new technologies. I wonder you would want your child's classroom to look the same as one from 1900 or whether you would want their classroom to reflect the world they live in.

    I think we are in total agreement, by the way, on politicians and business people 🙂

  6. Reply

    "As far as technology being a costly investment, so were calculators, overhead projectors, PENCILS, chalk, chalkboards, all of which at some point were new technologies."

    That's right, but they were practical, pragmatic, non-addictive, and not pushed by pop culture. You didn't see people walking around staring at a pencil, a piece of chalk, or a calculator for hours on end years ago, either.

    I judge the 140 Conferences in their entirety, which would include the Silicon Valley maven who runs it and the ridiculous pop culture celebrity guest lists. I only see education as another market for him to exploit. Those are the people I was referring to in my last post. Quite frankly, I don't understand how any serious educator would want to have any part of that kind of circus. It just reeks of that pop culture driven banality that drags down the collective intellect. Sadly, I see so many teachers jumping on this bandwagon for what seems like no other reason than the need to belong to something that's popular. It's like how many people think they have to watch the trendy TV shows and the trendy films because they don't want to seem "out of it" at the so-called "water cooler."

    "I wonder you would want your child's classroom to look the same as one from 1900 or whether you would want their classroom to reflect the world they live in."

    I'm sorry, MaryBeth, but this statement represents the often repeated yet hackneyed attack by the Curriculum 21 movement which casts the issue in the most absurd light.

    An excellent teacher is an excellent teacher. The calendar on the wall doesn't determine that, nor does the amount of toys at his/her disposal.

    Just remember that the 20th century model of teaching produced an America as a world superpower for much of that whole century. The education system didn't cause America to slip in its status, either.

    The bottom line is that a crisis situation has been invented to open new markets to make money. This is what's behind Curriculum 21. It's the same thing in other sectors of society. It's a means to grab power and create new sources of capital for corporate America.

  7. Reply

    Disagree on which part specifically, or all of it? if so, that's quite a shock. I believe I'm looking at things as they are, not how I wish they could be like in an idealistic sense.

  8. marybethhertz

    Reply

    I'm not sure how you equate Curriculum 21 and grabs of power. If anything, the model (I'm reading the book right now) puts more power in the hands of students. In addition, the workforce we are preparing students for requires them to be able to work collaboratively, problem solve and use complex technological systems. This is true whether they are a tradesman or a corporate employee. My students do not have the luxury of learning these skills at home or in their community. Therefore, it is my responsibility to teach them things that most middle/upper class students learn at home.

    As far as the the addiction goes, I think this is a gross exaggeration. Yes, people get addicted to video games, but I'm not quite sure what you think is being taught in schools. In my classroom, students learn how to gather resources from the internet (we have never had a library in the school) and synthesize them into a final project to share with their peers and often the world.

    Technology has allowed my students to talk live with students their age in Peru and learn about a culture from those who live it every day. My students have shared their artwork with people from Australia to Canada, North Carolina and their parents who can't make it into the school to see their work.

    There was a time when people thought that ballpoint pens were detrimental to students because they would no longer know how to make their own quills.

    As far as idealistic goes, I am a product of the Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink kind of education (http://www.ecfs.org/fieldstonlower/welcome.aspx)” target=”_blank”> http://www.ecfs.org/fieldstonlower/welcome.aspx)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.ecfs.org/fieldstonlower/welcome.aspx) and would not be the inquisitive learner that I am today without having had that experience. When I entered 'main stream' education in 3rd grade I felt squashed and uninspired by my education. I was lucky enough to attend a private school on a large scholarship. Most children cannot afford to have such a quality education. Which is why it needs to permeate into the public sector. I also teach students who obviously don't learn the way that the regular public school setting allows for, no matter that they are brighter than most of their peers and are wonderful problem solvers when presented with a task.

    The reason for my previous comment was because I realized how we disagree on many issues and I was not looking for a 'comment war' back and forth about topics on which we'll never agree.

    I appreciate your comments, and I respect your opinions. I am always open to dialogue, though for me commenting back and forth is not always the best forum.

    I think you would really enjoy the dialogue at edcamp Philly on May 22nd. It'd be great to have you therehttp://www.edcampphilly.com

  9. Reply

    I prefer to term them intellectual debates, but if you aren't game, then I understand. As for the educamp link you sent me, it's dead.

    "As far as the the addiction goes, I think this is a gross exaggeration."

    Really? Have you walked around many college campuses or high schools lately? Note how many kids are glued to their cell phones. It's sickening.

    As for Pink and Robinson, I believe I've rather effectively deflated their dubious cults of personality they've cultivated over the past few years. You see, I am not moved by their celebrity or their huckster schtick.
    http://marksrightbrain.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/t
    http://marksrightbrain.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/m

  10. marybethhertz

    Reply

    Yes, I read both posts, hence the mention of both men in my response. They are definitely cults of personality, but I happen to find much of what they have to say to be insightful and applicable.

    You are correct in stating that there is an addictive quality to technologies like cell phones and computers, Facebook, etc….. Many adults struggle with moderating their use of them, too. However, good technology use habits are best taught at home, not in school. Parents should be limiting use at home and not using technology as a babysitter. They should also be modeling good habits by limiting their use of these technologies.

    I'm sorry the link didn't work. Try this one:
    http://www.edcampphilly.org

  11. Reply

    It's sad to know that even in education there is politics. Teachers can be obstructed by politics within the educational system. There are times when they do not get what they deserved because someone else is favored in the interest of the superior. I do agree that adults are often senseless, irrational and immature especially when politics overpower them.

  12. Reply

    I don't understand your obvious discomfort over business and politics. We need both to have a well ordered society. I often use the expression "follow the money" when I talk about both business and politics but it seems disingenuous to attribute all motivation that way. Do you believe that only educators (and apparently not all of them) are the only ones that can put the needs of our children before the all mighty dollar?

  13. Reply

    You say "An excellent teacher is an excellent teacher." I agree, but how do you define an "excellent teacher"? It seems you evaluate the teacher by the tools he/she chooses to use in class. I choose to evaluate teachers by their relationships with their students.

  14. marybethhertz

    Reply

    Mark @ Israel,

    It does seem like some kind of 'obstruction' sometimes. I'm starting to think that nothing in life is apolitical. Not even the food we eat! The sad part is that the children are the ones that are affected by politics in education and usually they have the tiniest voice in it all!

  15. Reply

    I choose to evaluate teachers based on the level of student performance on a variety of assessments.

    We have different educational standards up North.

  16. Reply

    Uh, william, I happened to read some of your remarks on twitter and I was not aware that blog opinions had to be researched first. I mean, are we writing university term papers here?

    By the way, I have to question someone referring to themselves as a "Big Goober."

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