Monday, March 29, 2010

Stop waiting to be told what to do

In his recent book Linchpin, Seth Godin makes a number of stinging criticisms towards apathy:

How was it possible to brainwash billions of people to bury their genius, to give up their dreams, and to buy into the idea of being merely an employee in a factory, following instructions?

Part of it was economic, no doubt about it. Factory work offered average people with small dreams a chance to make a significant change in their standard of living. As a bonus this new wealth came with a pension, job security, and even health insurance.

But I don't believe that this was enough to explain the massive embrace of a different way of life. The key piece of leverage was this promise: follow these instructions and you don't have to think. Do your job and you don't have to be responsible for decisions. Most of all, you don't have to bring your genius to work.

In every corporation in every country in the world, people are waiting to be told what to do. Sure, many of us pretend that we'd love to have control and authority and to bring our humanity to work. But given half a chance, we give it up, in a heartbeat.

Like scared civilians eager to do whatever a despot tells them, we give up our freedoms and responsibilities in exchange for the certainty that comes from being told what to do.

Today's standardized testing craze has stripped teachers of their professionalism. More and more standardization in education says one thing to teachers: We don't trust you!

Teachers need to stand up and take back their classrooms, their assessments and their curriculums. Too many teachers go from day to day too scared to speak up against things like content-bloated curriculums and externally prescribed assessments that are poorly constructed and poorly assessed.

Why don't teachers speak up and advocate for their profession?

For the most part, they have been bullied into a sickly form of apathy. Too many see the opportunity of 'having a place at the table' that they are scared to speak up and advocate for good learning and good teaching in fear of losing that seat at the table. But at what cost will we continue to pay to participate in a pseudo-negotiations with policy makers who are pedagogically even further removed from the classroom than they are geographically.

Is this kind of change possible? Well Alfie Kohn offers this:

If we simply reconcile to the status quo and spend all our time getting out children to accomodate themselves to it and play the game, then nothing will change and they will have to do the same with their children. As someone once said, realism corrupts; absolute realism corrupts absolutely.
It's probably very true that people don't necessarily resist change but they do resist being changed. Because of this, I'm not really interested in changing your mind about anything - but I am interested in encouraging you to think about all this.

While writing this article, Ric Murry made me think of a way we can make school a better place when he tweeted a gem:

You have to convince the kids who hate school to become teachers if you want it to change.

What could you do starting tomorrow that would advocate for the kind of progressive educational reform that our children need?

What could you do starting right now to encourage a kid who hates school to become a teacher and make a difference?


  1. Right on - I've long been a believer that we need more people who hated AT LEAST parts of their education. Unfortunately, teacher education (in my experience, at least) seems to prefer conformers over reformers.

  2. Chris, I agree. I find that some post-secondary institutions seem scared to teach their students to stand up against standardization. We rarely encourage teachers to aggressively advocate for their profession.

  3. Are we at the 'Tipping Point' because of the economy or becaues it's really time for change?

  4. I stand up often. As a result my livelihood is threatened often and that is made public. There is little room for doubt that if you disagree with those in charge, you are putting your job on the line.