Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

How Did It Get Here? ~ Kristi

on November 12, 2012

In an email to my soul sisters, this week I confessed that I really have only written about motherhood and my daughter.  They asked, “Why?”  Writing about motherhood and my daughter is easy.  As a working mother, most of my day is spent being a mom or being a teacher.  I write about motherhood because it is safe.  Writing about my career, which is riddled with disenfranchisement and disillusionment, is scary because then I might have to find the courage to change something.  Staying in a space of disenfranchisement and disillusionment is not remaining in integrity—a quality for which I strive.   So, with strength and courage, I unbury my head from the sand and write my truth about education.

On days like today, I reflect upon my classroom and wonder, “How did it get here?”

I have too many students in my classroom due to the budget cuts.  Many of them require extensive intervention—both academically and emotionally.  Some are reading two grade levels below tenth-grade, most of them are behind even more.  Most lack the fundamentals to be successful.  They are not organized.  They don’t come to school prepared with a paper and pencil.  Instead, some come with their backpacks full of excuses and no motivation to put forth effort to do much of anything—let alone LEARN.

As a thirty-two year old teacher who has taught for ten years, there are characteristics of this generation that I can relate to, but I find the gap between them and me widening.  I come from a generation of students who understand what it was like to be engaged in learning.  Our teachers had a curriculum, but that curriculum was dictated by their interests.  So lessons were infused with passion
and purpose.  I can tell you that in high school, I spent many nights up late working on projects that measured our learning.  These projects inspired creativity and forced us to learn in order to be able to do the project.  I remember the discussions about novels in my English classes.  Those discussions helped me develop my ability to formulate an argument. They forced me to ponder the various perspectives of my classmates and teacher and taught me to find my voice.

The year I graduated high school, the state of California adopted standards.  Teachers were told what to teach because that was what was required.  Former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation further changed the landscape of education.  Politicians, who have no teaching experience, decided to develop an accountability system that would hold districts, schools, teachers, and students accountable for the content standards.  Great in theory; but the application has created a completely different type of system and student.

The students I see in the desks in front of me are artfully trained for a test.  Every lesson feeds The Beast, also known as the “California Standards Test” (CST), which comes every April.  Right before The Beast all organic instruction stops.  Teachers try their best to fill any gaps in learning with creative and compelling lessons (Where is the sarcasm font for that phrase?).   Students NEED to do well
on The Beast. If the students don’t there are dire consequences for the district, school, and teacher.  In fact, we spend instructional time to teach test taking strategies and how to properly fill in a bubble.  Doesn’t that sound exciting and engaging?

I wonder if the general public really understands the striking differences between the education they received in the public school system and the educations that the next generations are receiving.  I have a suspicion that the education system sounds great to an outsider because it was created by adults for adults.  There are systematic markers for success and failures.  There are systematic consequences

for not being successful.  But, the victims in this system are the students.  They are completely disengaged.  They don’t care.  Their creativity is developed through little acts of rebellion against the tyranny and monotony of a system of The Beast.

My ninth-grade honors students just finished reading Lord of the Flies. In the book, British school boys are stranded on a deserted island adult-less after their plane crashes.  The boys try, but fail, to establish a civilized society and savagery takes over. In the beginning of the book, the boys are exploring the mountain and they find something t hat they cannot identify so it gets labeled a beast.  The beast is scary and that fear affects the boys tremendously.  The beast on the mountain turns out to be a dead parachuter.

This is analogous to The Beast in education.  Every adult in education is fearful of The Beast and this fear has changed all aspects of education.  For example, we find ways to tweak the younger generation’s education so they can do well on The Beast without questioning if these tweaks are best for students.  I am afraid that when the adults in education quit dancing around in fear of The Beast and really look at it, it will be a dead parachuter like in Lord of the Flies.  The Beast was parachuted into education by politicians and was dead upon arrival or shortly thereafter due to it not having direct impact on student’s grades so there is no authentic student buy-in.

I don’t have magical answers.  I don’t know if there will be enough educational reform to undo the effects of teaching to The Beast.  The Beast has consumed critical thought and creativity in students (and teachers) and replaced it with disengaged and apathetic students (and teachers) who know how to bubble-in a multiple-guess test.  How will the students fair in college with little to no real life problem
solving skills?  How will the students fair in the workforce where there are little to no multiple choice tests for which their education has trained them?  How will they fair in the global market?  How will students develop and invent new innovations necessary for the up and coming problems when The Beast has consumed all novel thought?

By nature, I am not a fatalist.  I am not a pessimist.  Now I understand why the older teacher generation grumbles.  I see first-hand the changes in the students that I care about so much.  The burning passion that I once had for education has been snuffed out by The Beast.  The glossed over and disengaged eyes of my students reflect my glossed over and disengaged heart.

Ten-years into this career of mine, I wonder, “How did it get here?”

As I finished typing this, I checked my Facebook. This is what I saw:

T.D. Jakes Ministries WTAL – 52 Days of Pecking Orders – Day 35

When God POSITIONS you, He has a way of putting you in a place where you have no choice but to move from the safe center to the uncertain edge of a new experience! Admittedly, you would avoid making the necessary changes or facing the edge if you could. It’s here that you learn the value of faith and fuel of prayer. Activate both as God POSITIONS you to face uncertainty.  (11/11/12) 

Hallelujah for moving from my safe spaces of writing and moving to the uncertain edge that may require changes through faith and prayer! 


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