Tao of the Sockless Floor

High stakes testing is like saying to your child, “I want you to clean your room. I want everything up off the floor and in its place, the funny smell gone, and every surface that can to sparkle. When you’re finished I want you to be able to look around, sigh out of utter exhaustion and accomplishment, and realize this is a room with a future, a bright one. But, at the very least, I want you to pick up your socks.”

For twenty years we’ve been teaching kids to pick up their socks. Our entire system is designed around that minimal level of achievement: our discipline policies, our attendance policies, our curriculum maps, our basic understanding of how schools operate. Everything is designed to get our kids to do the minimum.

But some of us close our classroom doors and do what we need to do. We can see the desiccated pizza slices hidden under the bed. We help the students who want to learn how to organize a closet and arrange bookshelves. Of course some us also got caught, cornered by an administrator who cried, “But what about the SOCKS!”

We point to our data proving our kids can not only recover the hell out of some socks, but also paint the walls and do the laundry like pros. But administrators will scratch and twitch, cajole and threaten, then PIP us back onto the path of true enlightenment: the Tao of the Sockless Floor.

“Look at China’s scores!” say critics of our public schools. To which we point out that China, along with most other countries, don’t try to educate everybody. “Oh yeah? Look at Finland!” retort others. Meanwhile, our scores creep up, but not fast enough. And our funding… What to do? What to do? Tutoring and mentoring and incentivizing and cheating — because you can’t have a school without money.

Maybe some of us believed all along, drank the Kool-Aid and did the enforced bare minimum, covered what we were supposed to and nothing more, drilled children in taking tests, and taught them the tricks of the trade. And because we were doing what we were told, what we were supposed to do, we told ourselves that it was none of our business why our students shuffled in and out of our doors like POWs looking out upon a bare and lifeless promontory where they were going to be made to toil until they dropped (out).

So, school got easier even as the education system at large grew more complicated in ineffective ways, flailing attempts to improve scores. Easy solutions to the problem were offered. Offerings voters should’ve rejected. Despite science, a good chunk of taxpayers’ money is flung at the polished turds of School Choice. Vouchers? Your average private school doesn’t do any better than public ones. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Teach for America isn’t teaching America, and merit pay is without merit.

Here’s a question for you:  If the US is consistently behind where you think it ought to be, is it more likely that there is something genetically wrong with each and every American teacher or is more likely that there’s something wrong with the system?

Take a moment. Try to figure out the probability on that one.

I’ll wait.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us grunts in the trenches feel like we’re been trapped inside a farce from which there is no escape, where it’s always the same Spam every day only dressed up in different disguises, rebranded as the next wonder-cure for all that ails the apathetic learner and their burned out instructors. The system is broken. We, who have seen it all before, hide our smiles behind our hands and laugh at them. Forgetting we’re part of that system.

Well, if you’re prepped for surgery and the doctor is about to make a fatal mistake, but a nurse notices it in time, wouldn’t everybody be grateful if the nurse spoke up? And if the surgeon got angry and reprimanded that nurse, you’d still be alive. Sometimes that reprimand is just a reprimand you’ve got to take. That’s part of being a responsible professional. And in this economy, kids’ lives are in just as much jeopardy as the poor jerk on the operating table. It just takes longer for them to pass on.

By Vance Lawman, Warren Education Association – Trumbull County

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