Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cynicism and Apathy

It's easy to become pissed off at the establishment. Sometimes it really feels like the beauracratic monster is a virus that will inevitably devour every hard working, good intentioned person on the face of the earth.

But we must resist the urge to reduce ourselves to being mere cynics.

I've written about this topic before, and I've quoted Alfie Kohn on the subject:

...cynicism, unlike vibrant, reasoned skepticism, actually contributes to passivitiy.

It's too easy to play the blame game.

It's too easy to become disenfranchised with the system.

It's too easy to just close your door and teach on your little island.

But man is no island.

Sure you can close your door.

But if you do, you become part of the problem. Kohn explains:

Whereas the skeptic thinks and doubts and in so doing affirms a vision of the way things ought to be, the cynic affirms nothing, takes no action, and ends up perpetuating arrangements that make our lives worse. 

Did you hear that? 

...makes our lives worse...

Young teachers are full of shit and vinegar - but they are inexperienced and suffer from 'dear in headlights' syndrome. They're too damn busy trying to keep their heads above water. And if they're not too damn busy, they're too damn scared. They can't afford to rock the boat because they want to maintain a seat on the boat.

So who am I really challenging here?

I'm talking to the veterans...

...the battle-axes...

...the hard-asses...

...the dinosaurs...

...the fossils...

You know the teacher I'm talking about - the one who has been around so long they look like they're a part of the furniture.

Yeah. I'm talking to you.

You owe it to yourself, your students and all those young teachers who will one day become you: the veteran.

That is, unless they chose to leave like the other 50% of teachers who quit inside of the first 5 years. Unless they chose to be like the countless number of kids who grow up wanting to be a teacher but think better of it, because, well, teaching isn't really worth it...

But I guess, you really don't have to accept this challenge. I mean what's the worst that could happen?

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. (Alfie Kohn)

Seriously, if you're not the person to stand up and fight the good fight, then who?

And if now is not a good time, then when?


  1. I hope I get to meet you one day Joe. I would consider it an honor to work with you.
    Coming to work every day is so frustrating when no one gets excited about learning but because you do you are shunned. I would close my door and create that island if not for the children who come to me and ask to learn the things I am teaching in my class. Not so much the "core curriculum" but the 21st Century skills that are applicable to their lives. In the process, that core curriculum will happen.
    Thank you for support in the fight against SB6 in Florida and more than that, thank you for the encouragment to walk around (or over at times) the dinosaurs.
    Teaching is a profession that is not designed to accommodate the teacher or today's skill set. Instead, teachers must be willing to make accomodations that best prepare students with a skill set that equips them for a future of high expectations and constant change.
    Status quo is not good enough!

  2. Please excuse the errors. I get a little excited at times and tend to rush without editing. LOL!

  3. I am a mom who tried to fight the good fight for 10+ years. My kid turned 18 last week.
    I have 2 youngers, 4 & 6...this time around we live on our personal island...located in the "real world" because a childhood is too short to fight the good fight this time around.

    I hand it to you- for speaking up, shouting out...I hope someone really powerful is listening. I am sure you are changing a few people's lives...I am routing for you from the sidelines of our learning island...keep on keeping on!

  4. Hey Joe,

    Thanks for the post. I am a first year teacher, and can identify with trying to keep a seat in the boat. At the moment I am working with a great bunch of teachers who take the time to talk with me and supply me with great resources. I am also at my second position this year, and my first experience was not that way. Thank you for challenging those who seem to treat their teaching profession as merely a job that needs to be endured day by day. I like to dream about what education will and could be like in 5 to 10 years, and that gets me excited. Seeing the day by day people at work is not that exciting! I cannot say that of the majority of the people that I have already encountered, but I have seen them, and they are joy thumpers!! I try to spend more time with the joyful ones...

  5. Hey, nearly 30 years in the classroom, and I'm doing the best I can. (Not sure I like all that name-calling,though.) I still get excited after all these years, and the best days are still happening for me and the kids. My early mentors were Kohl, Kozol, Holt, and Kohn...and they continue to inspire me today. Just because we're old doesn't mean we don't care:)

  6. Joe, my teaching career went from 1957 - 1997. I've heard these same rants before. In fact, I think I've said something like this. The teaching body is a large beast and difficult to herd. Maybe that's good in a way. But I hear the frustration about getting teachers to change.
    One thing I really like about new teachers today is how they teach kids to think. I was trained in the old style and found it difficult to develop the new skills to teach kids to think. I would have had to have been totally retrained.
    Keep up the good fight.


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