By Julia Putnam
LFC Feb. 18-25, 2012
As the students introduced themselves, we got a sense of the wide range of age and experience among those now becoming teachers: from young people just out of high school to men and women entering the profession as a second career.
I told them that, based upon my experiences as a teacher and mother, I was working to develop the Boggs Educational Center, a community-based school aiming both to transform the community and redefine education.
Grace pointed out that in this country we are undergoing a cultural revolution as far-reaching as that from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11,000 years ago and from agriculture to industry 3-400 years ago. So old ways of doing things, including educating our children, have become obsolete.
Our challenge as educators, she said, is to relate to schoolchildren not only as teachers but as parents, citizens and members of the community.
An older woman spoke of leaving the corporate world to become a teacher, hoping that the children in her classes would not have to endure the years of suffering and meaninglessness that she had experienced before she decided to leave the corporate world.
Grace warned her that the teaching profession has the potential to resemble a corporate job That is why we must enter the profession thoughtfully, wanting for our students what we want for ourselves and for our own children.
Otherwise we can spend years in a classroom encouraging and preparing young people to compete for corporate jobs as a measure of their success. That is the role of teachers in the current educational system.
As teachers, we must begin to question this system, recognizing that it is inherently abusive to our own humanity and to that of our students. We must stop perpetuating this empty idea of success and examine what will nurture our own and our students’ capacities as human beings.
In our schools we need to create the kind of space for all young people to grow that we want for our own children. Relating to our students as parents forces us to reject what we would not tolerate for our own children.
The work of teachers would be different if it focused on creating systems that feed the humanity of all involved. If teachers thought like parents, our work would allow us to nurture, respect and love the children in our classrooms.
Our work as teachers would also be different if we viewed ourselves as citizens of our country. Then we would know that it is our job to raise children who understand the evolution of this country and their place in that evolution. We would be raising citizens instead of subjects. We would view our job as helping to prepare young people to practice creative problem solving for our most challenging local and national questions. We would know that churning out standardized, rote learners instead of creative, critical thinkers is not helpful to our country.
Our teaching would also be different if we saw ourselves as members of the local community. Then we would know that our work is about making a contribution to our place, our space and our neighbors who are also connected to people and places further away.
Teachers are doing important work all over this country right now. But quantity of work does not always equal quality. It’s not enough to be satisfied with how much work we’re doing and dissatisfied with how little that work is appreciated if the work we’re doing isn’t producing the kind of people we need.
Let’s redefine the quality of our work. Let’s understand that our importance lies not in how many students we equip to get into a four-year university but in how many we prepare to be life-long learners, life-long citizens and leaders of the Next American Revolution.