June 1, 2008

Dumbing down, numbing up

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teachers say they work “in the trenches.” Usually they mean in the city’s classrooms, “on the front line,” so to speak.

It’s one thing to roll up your sleeves and get down to work with troubled kids in troubled schools in troubled neighborhoods: we’re talking vocation here. But, it’s a whole other thing to find yourself mucking around with the real thing: guns, gangs, and the sanitizing of violence in BloomKlein’s New World Order.

I’m not a newcomer to this system and have seen my share of aggression and blood in schools. The first time I ran into it wasn’t even in this country, it was at a British grammar school. Some boys were fooling around with a javelin they’d stolen out of the gym, and one of them got killed. It wasn’t intentional to be sure, but neither was there any reason for that kid to hurl the weapon directly at the others. The teachers were horrified.

I was also horrified about 12 years ago when a big, bad kid put his fist through a glass door in the Manhattan middle school I was working in. It was at the end of the day and there were only two of us there to apply a tourniquet and stop the blood shooting out from a severed artery in a six-foot arch. The parent couldn’t be reached (she could never be reached, draw your own conclusions), the other teacher couldn’t deal with it and left, and I accompanied the boy to the hospital. To tell you I disliked this kid for all his disruptive behavior in my class is an understatement, but I had him squeeze my hand while they sewed up his gaping flesh without anesthetic. He didn’t seem to know or care that we had saved his life, he never acknowledged our presence or came in to talk about the incident with us at all.

And all of us know about those hallway fights you try to break up, the ones that in spite of all the advice in the world about not getting involved seem to require your help the most, and you end up throwing personal caution to the wind. Big kids, little ones, girls, boys, scratching, kicking, biting, pulling hair, spitting venomous language. When kids are getting themselves hurt in front of our eyes, it's not so easy to just stand by and watch. And you’re again horrified. How can these students be in their teens and still think anything someone might say to them is worth a brutal physical response?

A week or so ago we not only had a gun scare at school, we had a real gun. I’m ashamed to say that hardly anyone was horrified. Some even remarked: “Well, it wasn’t loaded" and went about their business.

I am unhappy on all kinds of levels about this incident — mostly, of course, that the words gun and school can show up in the same sentence. I am unhappy about the way it was handled: the delay in telling staff about the incident, the withholding of details, the dissemination of misinformation. We were left uninformed and unprepped, which was not unexpected, but nevertheless strange.

The casual reaction of some of the staff gave me pause. Have we become so inured to this war that’s been going on for five years that anything less than bloody and ruthless devastation is somehow acceptable in the normal run of things? Or has that war become so Bush-sanitized that some people disengage from the reality of violence out of habit and can no longer react to it on a gut level or be shocked by warlike things?

Boy, are we buying into illusion these days. With their deep pockets and expensive PR machines, Bloomberg and Klein have made it their business to obscure the problems in our city's schools, not to mention all the things students have to deal with before they even get there.

We don’t need a billionaire mayor who encourages the wholesale manipulation of testing, data, programs, and accountability to get people to believe he’s been a “successful” education leader. But that’s what we are told by a compromised press, and we keep buying their newspapers and watching their newscasts.

We don’t need Klein’s tireless assaults on teachers, kneecapping union workers and making them the scapegoats for all the ills of society, the greed of education lobbyists and corporations, and the abuse of political office. But we’ve allowed them to convince us it's the teachers who are at fault.

We don’t need transparent schemes like credit recovery that educrats hobble together to cover up their dismal record of not giving students a decent set of skills by the time they graduate. But, our kids certainly feel great once they’ve learned how to work the system.

We don’t need people in office who ignore state mandates for special education and the subjects you need to graduate, and who have little use for time-honored methodologies, vocational skills, the arts, and smaller class sizes. Yet, union managers demur mildly with one lame explanation or another (like “They seem to be turning state mandates into recommendations”) and call for no action at all.

And we certainly don’t need cover-ups for the weapons, crime, gang graffiti, and violence that come near and into our schools.

To be in the eye of the hurricane and believe it’s not raging around you is both foolhardy and stupid.

And to fight this particular storm here in New York City, fanned by high-end hypocrisy, malfeasance, and social engineering on a massive scale, teachers must recognize two things: that some facts never come out unless we demand them, and that it’s always better to get them out there than to remain comfortable in studied ignorance.


  1. Brilliant and timely. Posts like this tell me that we have reached a really important fork in the road. We can start waking up to the horrendous corruption that has been going on around us or continue to bury our heads in the sand. I am starting to see more and more posts like this one and it makes me hopeful that we might be turning down the right fork.

  2. It's hard when teachers who do try to stand up for truth are penalized, ostracized and victimized.

  3. How kind of you to take a bleeding kid who you despise to the hospital. Such a martyr. How about instead of using his absentee mother to excuse your inability to get through to the kid, and instead of hating him for his misfortune, you actually learn to care for him even more for his unrealized potential? But that would require you to admit that effort and compassion can overcome anything, and destroy your most treasured possession: your ability to complain.

  4. Corporation says teacher bad. Corporation always right. Teacher must be bad.
    Must criticize teacher. Must get get anti-teacher message out.

  5. For readers who have never read the infestation known as Socrates, he's more than likely a hireling in the service of educorp and has already been banned from a number of sites.

  6. I take my bleeding kids home with me, let them sleep in my bed and explore their unrealized potential. And they never complain.

  7. Joel Klein is my shepherd,
    I shall not want;
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
    He leads me beside still waters;
    He restores my soul.
    He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for His name's sake.

    Even though I walk through the valley
    of the shadow of people who actually do teach,
    I fear no evil;
    for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

    Surely corporate payoffs and merit pay shall follow me
    all the days of my life;
    and I shall dwell in the house of
    Joel (and Mikey) forever.

  8. I've been teaching for a 25 years or is it 10 years - anyway, I forget exactly how long. I encourage my students to bring their guns to school. Unlike you, I do not blame their parents for their having guns around - I am not a chronic complainer, after all. Unlike you, I also have no problem getting through to these kids. I just have all the kids who brought their guns simply point them at those who do not pay attention. Keeps 'em perky. Also a great way to reduce class size.

  9. I like to suck the blood from children, place it in a bucket, and share it with all my friends at Tweed. I resent teachers like you who deprive me of that activity.

  10. You have made a number of interesting points here. Like you, I work with a worrying number of ignorant colleagues who seem happy to float through the minimum number of hours, do the minimum amount of work, and collect the minimum amount of money. And there are those of us who always try to go that extra mile while being held back by the system, as well as by the poison spouted about the realities of our job by imbeciles such as socrates.

  11. I am greatly pleased that above mentioned imbecile,socrates, has now been recognized as such in two different continents.
    Stupidity, it seems, is universally recognized.

  12. Violence in public schools is all over and many times the administration does not report it because they are afraid of "big brother". In my school there are some 5th graders that are so angry and disrecpectful that sometimes is impossible to teach. You can not ask for help in the main office bacause they blame you. They usually mention that you do not have "Classroom management skills". Children in America get away with murder.

  13. Here's the problem though. By allowing children in America to 'get away with murder' you are harming them very deeply.
    What happened to the days when adults were supposed to protect children and keep them from indulging in behaviors that would ultimately cause their own failures?
    These bizarre policies by moronic school leaderships prevent teachers from doing the very thing that is necessary in helping to foster happy and healthy people.
    Children of every age need guidance. We are no longer allowed to do this.
    Instead, we leave them on their own and this is both dangerous and shameful.

  14. Thank you for your comments. We're all in accord here, and when I get back from the movies, I'm going to riff a bit on the "dangerous and shameful" situation we're now in, where administrators no longer feel an obligation to protect anyone from student/parent aggression but themselves.

  15. Excellent statement "..MORONIC school leaderships prevent teachers.." from teaching students what is right from wrong. In my school you cannot discipline children because they accuse you of child abuse.