Why teach? What's the point? We live in a culture that does not value teaching and teaching is a joke of a profession, a waste of time for students who'd rather be on Instagram; a waste of time for administrators who prefer keeping teachers out of the classroom to do their reports, assessments, and service to the institution; a waste of time for parents who believe schools should revolve around the needs and comfort of their children, with the classroom as a tertiary, if that, concern; even a waste for our god-awful current President, who clearly and unequivocally has no need for classrooms, teachers, or teaching (no need to link to his settlement in a fraud case brought against his, ahem, "university").
Who needs a Department of Education in a society that doesn’t get the value of education for the public good and for improving itself.
Sorry. It's just the typical end-of-the-academic-year blues from another over worked and under appreciated teacher venting about the job. Not the sentiment you might expect in this season of graduations and commencement speeches, inspirational lessons and promises of a bright future. Instead, many of us in the trenches (that's a metaphor for the classroom) are having a profound and newly-formed WTF moment at the very end of the academic year and just at the beginning of this turn to "make America great,” asking ourselves: is teaching worth it in America?
Think about it. Why teach when "alternative facts" are given legitimacy by a ruling political class that refuses the value of evidence, scientific method, and historical knowledge? Who wants to teach when a ruling religious culture--white evangelicals mostly--closes down open-mindedness and intellectual inquiry in favor of an ideologically driven identity politics that distorts, or better, destroys, reality by turning it upside down (”Happy Holidays” is an assault on Christianity, for example)? What kind of society provides such little support for basic education, and denies that liberal arts learning is both a good in itself and has practical value in preparing for a career and life generally as an adult who will age, search for purpose and meaning, watch loved ones die, and then have to face death itself? Sorry but STEM is not going to help with your philosophical reflections about the suffering you see all around you, how you will live with the memories of dead loved ones, and what purpose, if any, you have in this life. Can you imagine what making America great again would mean if we celebrated intelligence and learning, contemplation and education?
I know, dream on and get with reality. What is a teacher to do in these circumstances, when being dumb but believing in Jesus trumps an education and a critical mind for political success in most regions of this country? Forget trying to console me with the old lie about it being a "noble profession" when it appears that stupidity and ignorance are so rampant. It is, rather, ignoble and inglorious in the eyes of many politicians and policy makers, church leaders and corporate board members, and so many others who are suspicious if not downright afraid of an informed and knowledgeable citizenry.
And that's the danger, right? Knowledge is dangerous and, as the new cliche goes, knowledge is power. To make America great again is not to lead the world in education--in the sciences, arts, math, basic language skills, hell just thinking--that is obvious. A great America doesn't include a smart America, but one with citizens so dumb, so distracted, so disenfranchised that the politics of fear, racism, and sheer hatred of the other party could lead to the ascension of a mentally disturbed, dictatorial, disgraceful rich celebrity who publicly embraced grabbing pussies. The white evangelicals love this man. This is our reality. Make America great again, indeed. While we're at it, can someone please make Christianity great again?
So what can a poor teacher do? Even with limited, if minimal, political power; even in the midst of public opinion that derides and discounts the value of education; even with a dominant religious culture that believes the only real learning comes from reading the Bible; even in the face of all this and more, I can fall back on one indisputable and soul rejuvenating fact about my job and teaching in general: America's sons and daughters are in our classrooms.
So now after this short but therapeutic harangue, I'm reminded about what I love so much about my job and what I find so fulfilling about it: Destroying the minds of the youth. I mean "destroying" in a good, positive sense. I mean destroying everything they have thought to believe is true: the Bible, political promises, what mommy and daddy say, what they read on social media and what they hear on Fox News. The plan is simple: destroy their minds so they can think for themselves; open their minds so they can better understand themselves and those who are different from them; blow their minds so they experience the freedom and liberating power of knowledge for knowledge sake, and for the sake of their future.
In other words, I'm hoping to nurture thinking rebels and cultural rebellions. Do I want students to start smoking cigarettes and become anarchists? Am I worried they will adopt Buddhism or subscribe to leftist political organizations? I don't really care where it leads them, to be honest, but I trust them. That is what it means to move from childhood to adulthood. Think for yourself, challenge authority, find your path. The revolution will not be streamed on Facebook, it will be taught in the classroom. So in some ways, teachers are on the front lines (another war metaphor), not wasting time teaching, but leading the charge to, dare I say it, make America greater than it is right now.