“If change is to come, then, it will have to come from the outside. It will have to come from the margins.” ~ Wendell Berry
A few months ago, I wrote a couple posts on how I got into and out of conventional teaching. Today I want to extend those thoughts and focus on a question I think all who make education our career have to consider at some point. In the words of the classic song, Should I stay or should I go?
Deciding to leave my first full-time assignment was particularly anguishing in the following respect: the guilt I felt over all the young people I’d be leaving behind. Was it really so bad, was I really so selfish, that I could justify abandoning them in order to save myself? Couldn’t I make the best of it and do however much I was able for those who, unlike me, couldn’t opt out? Why couldn’t I stay in the system and work to reform it from the inside?
I’ve mentioned plenty of times how difficult it is to talk about education—how easily triggered we all can be, perhaps even more so than with those textbook topics-to-avoid, religion and politics. As conflict-averse as I am by nature, it’s especially tough for me to say what I really think when it comes to how young people are permitted to go about the business of learning. This post is no different, in that I have a number of friends and former students working in conventional schools. How can I speak my truth without insulting theirs?
For my truth is that conventional schooling, public and private alike, is inexcusably restrictive and inherently limiting (when not obviously harmful). Rooted in a deep distrust both of students and teachers, it assumes people won’t work hard enough or achieve the best results without accountability, by which is meant a system of rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks. This is authoritarian, factory schooling, where students aren’t allowed to learn—nor teachers allowed to teach—as they know best, but instead are pitted against each other, weighed down by curricula and other standardized nonsense.
In sum, the system works against people wanting and working to do good. It’s the system that’s to blame, not the people. And yet no amount of fair-mindedness can rid us of the following question: Continue reading