The November 3rd cover of Time Magazine featuring the headline Rotten Apples is already infuriating teachers and parents nationwide before it even hits the stands, and I’m not surprised. After all, a gavel of justice hovering menacingly over the most iconic symbol for teacher appreciation feels downright violent. And who is supposed to be holding that wooden hammer? The feds? The ghost of Steve Jobs? I believe Time Inc. knew that sales would spike, and I’m glad for the dialogue now broiling, because the time is ripe to restructure education in America as a BOTTOM UP, not TOP DOWN, endeavor.
The American Federation of Teachers and the increasing voices weighing in on the #TIMEFail hashtag seem to generally miss the larger point of why tenure doesn’t ultimately serve students. As a classroom teacher in the public sector, I declined year after year to join the teachers union. Every September the same woman would stop by my fluorescent-lit classroom covered in Shakespeare posters and student essays, and every year I would say no thanks.
I declined to join the teachers union out of my own convictions and utmost respect for my profession, my community, and my students. In refusing to take part, I sought to preserve my own unique voice as an educator who knew about the youth in my school. I was not interested in hiring someone else to advocate for me. I saw my students as sovereign, my duty as sacred, and outside interference as anathema to the task at hand. Don’t get me wrong–I loved working collaboratively with fellow teachers and administrators. I just found the further away from the student other influences existed–i.e.; boards of education, boards of directors, state and federal involvement, etc.–the worse it was for my students. They needed to be held sacrosanct. I saw them as precious pebbles tossed into my academic pond, and the far-reaching, disparate ripples of concentric outsider agendas made my already challenging job harder.
For many teachers, the thought of a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs taking on Sacramento to dismantle teacher tenure practices in public schools pours salt on an already festering wound. I hate to think of how many teachers are hurting today, not only because I love them as my colleagues but because their wounding directly impacts students too. Truth is, the entire educational system in America is wounded by America’s increasingly corporatized system, where the marketization of education is the name of the game, and students are seen as mere customers.
The real story here is that Silicon Valley corporations seek to replace the halcyon red apples on teachers desks in days gone by with pricey silver apple logos that line the pockets of companies like Apple Inc, et al. Case in point: LA Superintendent John Deasy was recently ousted after supporting funneling millions of desperately needed taxpayer dollars for classroom improvements to placing “an iPad in the hands of every student”. Never mind the overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers with ill-equipped supplies.
This Silicon Valley intrusion is another chapter of TOP DOWN educational policy and politics. The current American system mistakenly forges rules for the function of schools drawn by a few at the top, neglecting the voices of those who are at the front lines—teachers, students, and parents.
When I read the Time Magazine cover, I thought, “Wow, here we go again, another group of powerful, well-connected outsiders promising to save the day!” Trouble is, outsiders rarely have formal training in education or the particular communities needing help, and therefore cannot do what they intend. Corporations, as capitalistic entities, can’t mount a white horse and slay a dragon. Why would they, when that dragon is guarding such a nice hoard of gold?
Another example: a little more than decade ago, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became the most sweeping federal educational policy to govern public schools throughout the country. This model of schooling championed by politicians relied mostly on accountability, test scores, and business model of choice, competition, and incentives. NCLB was crafted with a TOP DOWN mentality, and a little more than a decade later, the promise of NCLB—that all students reach academic proficiency—has been largely abandoned.
Let’s put on our critical lenses. Let’s not be fooled by the politics of teachers unions, which are, truth be told, are not outside of this TOP DOWN equation. They too are outsiders riding a paper white horse.
It is pretty simple. The TOP DOWN corporate model of schooling has wounded our teachers and students. It’s time to realize the misplaced involvement in America’s classrooms of Silicon Valley CEO’s, teachers unions, and federal government programs like Common Core. (Talk about a rotten apple…but I digress.)
Any attempt to silence the voices of those that matter in our local communities—teachers, parents, students, and other community stakeholders must be met with resistance to safeguard the sovereignty of students.
It starts first with the amazing realization that we have all the knowledge, tools, resources, and passion we need for our youth to succeed. Only a BOTTOM UP, grass roots return to localized curriculum will resurrect the teaching profession to its true and noble potential.
The time is ripe to stand up and recognize that the education of our youth needs to be BOTTOM UP.
The time is ripe to educate ourselves about how we as educators, as advocates for youth, can be empowered to refuse the TOP DOWN politics of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, teachers unions, Washington DC policy makers, and elite outsiders.
The time is ripe to let parents and local educators do our jobs.
America’s future depends on it.