I Don’t Know Sh*t About Education

The mes­sage we send our kids: Live like whitey.

Ryan’s repost of my old blog entry gave me cause to reread it for the first time since April 2011. I closed the post by pledg­ing to be a good teacher. I’m now into my sec­ond year as a spe­cial edu­ca­tion teacher and it’s as good a time as any to look back and reflect on my expe­ri­ences and to answer that ques­tion: Am I a good teacher?

Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion is not some­thing I imag­ined I’d be doing when I com­pleted my Eng­lish degree. Or when I com­pleted my Eng­lish Edu­ca­tion Master’s of the Art of Teach­ing (don’t ask). It’s def­i­nitely been a big learn­ing expe­ri­ence and it’s hum­bled me quite a bit.

But more than any of that, work­ing in Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion has taught me that I don’t know sh*t about edu­ca­tion. Rea­son­able peo­ple would expect to find a flawed sys­tem with inef­fi­cien­cies and prob­lems. What I have come to find is a deeply bro­ken sys­tem bor­der­ing on dys­func­tion. The worst part is, nobody seems to know how to fix it. Every­where I think I find some kind of answer or some kind of solu­tion, there are sig­nif­i­cant down­sides just wait­ing around the corner.

For exam­ple, I may teach Eng­lish (sped Eng­lish is still Eng­lish) but what I find myself spend­ing most of my time on is, for lack of a bet­ter term, life-skills. I’m not talk­ing about bal­anc­ing a check­book or writ­ing a resume. Instead, some of stu­dents need to learn not to scream at each other, teach­ers, phones, insects, or walls when some­thing doesn’t go their way. And let’s be clear, these kids aren’t cat­a­stroph­i­cally dis­abled or diag­nosed with any­thing more than a behav­ioral dis­or­der, ADHD, or some small learn­ing dis­abil­ity. The truly “bad” kids never set foot in a reg­u­lar class­room. The stu­dents I see are mostly just mal­ad­justed lit­tle jerks who can’t han­dle any­one ask­ing them to do any­thing they don’t like.

And that’s where my con­fu­sion sets in. I like to try and help these kids. I con­sider it my duty for liv­ing a cushy lifestyle on fat-cat Wall St. money. So, like most rea­son­able peo­ple, I try to help them see the big pic­ture: “You’re right, Billy, read­ing The Most Dan­ger­ous Game is bullth*t. But, Billy, it isn’t about read­ing this book, it’s about show­ing that you can fol­low direc­tions. It’s about show­ing you know how to work hard and accom­plish goals.” Billy doesn’t care though. He puts his head on the desk and refuses to move it. Which is fine because I really need to move on and teach the other kids who are start­ing to pull out their phones. I keep Billy after class and have a quick talk but he just doesn’t care and tells me to f*ck off. Billy’s mom gets an email which will never be replied to.

Was that right? Should I have tried to help Billy see the big pic­ture?  Is that what a good teacher would have done? I feel like help­ing stu­dents develop a sense of respon­si­bil­ity and a work ethic is the right thing to do but what am I really set­ting them up for?

We live under an illu­sion of mer­i­toc­racy. Sup­pos­edly our soci­ety rewards hard work with cash-money. Our school sys­tem is basi­cally built upon that premise. Work hard and you will be rewarded. That’s not true, though; is it? Should a good teacher work to sus­tain that illu­sion? The lifestyle we’re ask­ing them to fol­low is, well, a white 1950s vision of Amer­ica. It’s a pro­foundly con­ser­v­a­tive, or rather, lib­er­tar­ian mes­sage which we send to the kids every day. As we work in our polit­i­cal sys­tem to undo the dam­age caused by 30 years of self-interest, shouldn’t we be doing the same in schools?

That’s why I say I don’t under­stand Edu­ca­tion. I can’t fig­ure out what the pur­pose really is. For the last decade high schools nation­wide have been on a giant “col­lege bound” binge. AP and IB classes have exploded. Hon­ors is not far behind. The gen­eral edu­ca­tion kids and the spe­cial edu­ca­tion kids are all being pushed right toward the ivory tow­ers. But it’s not what they need. It’s not what they want. And the only expla­na­tion we give them is a mon­e­tary one: You go to col­lege to get the best job. You want the best job so you can make the most money. The way to get there is entirely on you, 15 year-old fresh­man. You and nobody else.

Our schools pre­tend they’re rais­ing and entire gen­er­a­tion of John Galts just wait­ing to show they’re the best so they can make that bank. The kids know it’s bullsh*t and they quit a long time ago. Why don’t we?

Does that make me a good or a bad teacher? I don’t know.