The Pencil Today:

The Blackboard Gulag

I wish I knew more about the circumstances that led up to that long-haired kid in Texas lecturing his teacher about, well, teaching.

You’ve probably seen the viral vid:

Context, of course, is everything and the kid could easily have been either a courageous fighter for students’ rights or a disruptive pain in the ass who was getting thrown out of class anyway and decided to perform a dramatic misdirection.

My first impulse is to embrace the kid because, frankly, I went to school too, so I know all about miserably ineffective and even counterproductive teachers. The first class in which I learned anything of value was Art in my sophomore year of high school. So, I’d spent a full decade squirming in my seat, learning nothing, before the school experience began paying off.

Bored Student

The Learning Experience

Which was why I found myself oddly conflicted when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and various other Tea Party-ists began waging war on unionized government employees, specifically teachers. Natch, I found Walker et al’s union-busting nauseating and frightening. On the other hand, the blowback against him verged on hysteria. Teachers, we were told, were angels put on Earth to raise us up from the slime of ignorance. The hagiography, the paeans, the hosannas for those in the education rackets became a roar.

Where, I wondered, were all these selfless saviors, these avatars or the mind, when I was a student?

The vast majority of my teachers were more like what we assume the teacher in the video to be. Well-behaved little cogs in the machine whose primary goal was to make sure we students turned out to be well-behaved little cogs in the machine.

Teachers, in fact, are so well-behaved that their very malleability has hurt them more than they can possibly imagine. We’ve all heard teachers complain about having to pay out of their own pockets for  supplies and even books for their classrooms. This on top of  the fact that they are paid, in comparison to, say, pro football quarterbacks and Fox News bleaters, virtually nothing. I’d love to see an across-the-board, national strike of teachers wherein their goal would be to be paid in a fashion somewhat commensurate with their self-advertised value to society. And if that strike lasts a full year? So be it.

CTU Strike

We Want More Pennies!

But teachers and their unions continue to settle for crumbs. Any other professional group that has to spend so many years and so many dollars to be certified to do a specialized job would have squeezed the system for every penny. That’s the advantage and the goal of collective bargaining. Teachers, meanwhile, occasionally go on strike for three days, win themselves a few more cents and a bunch of seniority protections, apologize profusely, and go back to work almost before the kids even realize they’ve had an unscheduled break.

They’re victims of their own group culture that champions good behavior above all. They are, in other words, too compliant for their own good.

Want proof? Witness how hard they come down on kids who aren’t compliant. Like, apparently, that long-haired kid in Texas.

Take The Test

I’m reading “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel right now. Only a few pages from finishing the graphic novel. It’s simultaneously riveting and off-putting. Bechdel tries to come to terms with her relationship with her mother — which is deeply compelling — but she spends most of her adult life (as well as her childhood, for that matter) analyzing, over-analyzing, and re-analyzing her actions and feelings — which is not.

Still, it’s a worthwhile read. Count me a big fan of Bechdel, even if she does navel-gaze too much.


Alison Bechdel

Anyway, I ran into Bloomington’s dulcet-est voice, Annie Corrigan, in Soma this morning and asked her if she’s read the book. She hasn’t but she’s well aware of Bechdel, naturally.

Corrigan hipped me to the Bechdel Test. Believe me, it’ll open your eyes to the pervasiveness of sex-typing in Hollywood movies.

Here’s how it works: think of any big movie or TV show you’ve ever seen. Think of the scenes between two women (the scenes have to last 60 seconds or longer and, consequently, are important to the plot.) What do the women talk about?

In shockingly disproportionate numbers, they talk about men. As in Do I like him? Should I Like him? Does he like me? Should he like me? and other such profound explorations into the human condition.


What Women Do

So women, Hollywood would have us believe, are babbling idiots. They don’t concern themselves with pressing issues like war, art, career, and the Meaning of Life. Only Will he ever love me?

Of course, you didn’t need the Bechdel Test to know that, did you?

2 thoughts on “The Pencil Today:

  1. dave paglis, illiterate, racist homophobe and now, dumpster diver says:

    Well, the young swabbie is very well spoken. I couldn’t tell what the subject of the class was but if it was one of the 3 R’s, the young man’s attitude is typical of youth. I was so bored in high school I felt like a cat in a cage. I couldn’t wait to get out; but the fault was mine, not the teachers. A friend wants to begin pipefitter training. Step one is a test that emphasizes reading comprehension and basic math. These are learned by rote and discipline. If they are not learned in high school it is the fault of the parent(s) and the student no one else. The kid in the video obviously has the smarts, all he needs is the self discipline.

  2. Susan Sandberg says:

    I’m truly worried about the State of Education in our country. Just talked to a friend last night whose teacher parent got out of the biz because he was no longer allowed to control his classroom. If he disciplined, the parents would complain and administration wouldn’t back him up. Game over! Excellent teachers are master motivators and they are far and few between. In this current lax and lackluster environment, I see few leaders emerging to turn this mess around, so the talented teachers are left to find solace elsewhere. I had the same ambivalence about the long-haired kid from Texas, but frankly…with so little educational and political courage in the world today, I’m on his side! The grown-ups have got to be in charge and inspiring if anything is going to change for the better. Oh, and better professional pay wouldn’t hurt anything either!

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