Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nothing With Joy

I have come to realize that my recent absence from this blog stems from the fact that I am in mourning for the state of education in America. Or at least for the loss of appreciation, respect and dignity for those of us who teach.

Once upon a time my school espoused the Reggio Emilia philosophy of "Nothing Without Joy" but these days the signs should read, "Nothing With Joy".  

Once upon a time we began the school year by asking children to share their hopes and dreams.  That respectful approach has been replaced by terms such as, pacing calendars, rigor and fidelity to the program.

Once upon a time it was "let me catch you doing something right" and now it is "let me catch you doing something wrong".

It is a monumental shift.

But it is happening all over.  Our happy, little school tried to remain above it all but resistance proved futile.

I find it interesting that the literacy and math curricula advocated by the New York City Department of Education was created by the very same folks who wrote the Common Core State Standards.  How is this not a conflict of interests? They create a list of standards that must be adopted by the schools and then conveniently offer up their programs to support it.  And in order for schools to get funding they must buy said programs.  Is that ethical?  

Teachers are continually threatened with the ominous "letter in your file".  It reminds me of my friend who went to Catholic school and was constantly warned by the nuns that the smallest infraction would leave a lasting mark on his permanent record.  He grew up terrified of this blemish on his permanent record until one day he thought, "Huh? What the hell does that mean?"

Maybe it is time for a change.

But then I think...I need to be there to keep some sense of balance between learning and enjoyment for these children. If I let them down that would be a stain that I cannot bear on the permanent record of my soul.

So, I soldier along finding moments of joy where I can and hoping all this too shall pass.


Lisa Burman said...

This made me shed a tear, Gary. I know it is happening all over, but hearing about the change to 'our happy little school' was like a stake had been stuck in my stomach. I know you though, and through it you WILL be finding those moments of joy to celebrate with your children. You WILL be driven by your love of children and of learning, not of meeting a benchmark or getting children 'up to standard'. The problem is that the system is making it more and more difficult to do so.

I so oppose this view of childhood as a commodity. I can hear Carla Rinaldi's voice in my ear. She would say "A violence against childhood!".

We seriously need to ask "What kind of a childhood do we want for our children?" One of reading benchmarks, hitting the target, always doing better...or one of joyful wonder, learning through the mistakes you need to make in life and freedom to discover who you really are?

When we think in terms of 'continuous improvement' I wonder if we unconsciously say to children "You're not good enough now"? I don't want a fluffy, airy-fairy kind of education for children. I want one of intellectual quality and engagement where teachers are very intentional about their decisions. But so much of what we see in the 'race to be first' or 'video-game get to the next level' mentality of education is concerned with narrow academic goals that can be easily measured, are easy to rote learn and keep in the short term memory, and are devoid of a search for meaning.

My final word (for today) is...children are born capable and powerful learners who innately search for meaning. Why do we insist on taking this from them instead of using it's power?

Pauline said...

Lisa's final question is a good one, the answer to which, I'm afraid leads to the same two evils that threaten any society based on free enterprise - greed and power. To keep greased a society based on capitalism, it is much better to pretend to educate children yet in reality "train" them than it is to allow them the freedom of creative and individual thought. Keep pushing against that, Gary. Even if you inspire just one child, that one will inspire others and education will not fall to training completely.

Gary said...


It seems like everybody has reached out to me in some way since this post went up to thank me for writing it and agreeing wholeheartedly (albeit in private). We are all struggling with maintaining joy within the constraints of someone else's idea of education. Sadly, the "someone else" (the folks who created the Common Core and some administrators) have little or no background in early childhood education.

I knew the dark side had taken over my soul a bit when I started to worry about how the reading scores of a beautiful child in my classroom with autism and Down's Syndrome would affect my rating under the new teacher evaluation system. I could hear you calling me back into the light.

I had an amazing day on Friday with my first grade students. I was able to reach them all at their level while teaching the required subjects and had a fantastic time. So, I am working it out. And it felt good to unload. Dry those tears my dear Lisa, I haven't given up.


The word hegemony comes to mind. As you state, it is a big, big issue. Although my post may have had a tone of surrender I am committed to keep my focus on the children. I know I am a good teacher with a true passion and I won't let that go easily. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You've inspired me.

Angella said...

I came over to check on you and saw this, which I had missed and my heart sank. I'm so sorry the state of things has reached inside your school but please know that you are one of the rare ones and what you bring nothing can take away because that light is innate. Even if it dims it's just recharging. I believe that. I believe so much in you.

Gary Wellbrock said...

Angella - I think I am in the recharging mode in a way. I haven't lost my passion but I have days when I just feel so beat up. I must remember I have options and if my current placement isn't the best fit I can always shop around for another.

Thank you for believing in me. I find that incredibly moving and it makes me stronger.


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