Sickening: May Day in Corporate American Education

May 1, 2013

Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested, but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I am a teacher fated to practice my craft in the midst of the most cynical, relentless and well-financed public relations campaign against any profession in American history. According to the campaign, I am of an occupation whose members have proved so inept and incompetent that, according to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, American education is in such a wretched state it now poses a threat to our national security. The campaign is one of two essential components in the corporate takeover of the American public school system. The other is high stakes testing,” the mechanism by which the takeover is occurring and occurring at alarming speed. It was in relation to such testing (bear in mind that everything in American education is now in relation to tests which are in themselves insults to the students) that the aforementioned insult was given.

One week after most of my students were forced to endure up to 18 hours of standardized tests, I am obliged to make sure my nearly 40 students complete another battery of standardized tests, an exercise I have engaged in annually for years now. But this year will be different. And so will all the years that follow.

The insult I speak of is this: my employer, the New York State Department of Education, no longer finds me a person worthy of trust. Let me rephrase that: the DOE flat out does not trust me. It’s nothing personal, you understand. Such distrust is extended, officially if insidiously, to all of my colleagues across the entire state. Like them, I have never given the DOE reason not to trust me; they have simply assumed that I, like all teachers, am too morally degenerate to do the right thing. Of course, they don’t use that kind of language to explain their reasoning. Indeed, they do not bother to explain it at all, implying that the truth of our degeneracy is as self evident as the credo that all people are created equal. They simply informed me in writing that from now on I am forbidden to score the grades of my student’s tests. They fear, I suppose, I might inflate their scores and thus my own teaching ability as more and more teachers are more and more perceived and judged as mere aggregates of their students’ standardized test scores.

All of this, of course, is done to insure and concretize the absolute centrality of the high stakes standardized test in American public schools, to establish once and for all a system that will, in words of that great educational leader, Mike Bloomberg, “hold teacher’s feet to the fire”. And it will hold them even as it reduces our children to bubble test taking pawns in a vast, cynical multi billion dollar corporate hijacking of the last and most vital public institution in America. It is now clear that, for the sake of the tests, any price is to be paid, any sacrifice to be made including, above all, human decency and dignity. After all, can dignity be measured ?

The sickening feeling reminded me once again of how degraded teachers’ working conditions have become, how soft and complicit our unions have been in our own degradation, how thoroughly we have been stripped of our professionalism under a corporatism that is all but totally internalized. And most of all how hard we will have to fight to win back that which has been stolen.
Yes, yes, I am aware of the cheating scandals in Atlanta and the yet to be affirmed scandal bubbling still beneath the miraculous gains and the stupendous amount of erasures in DC schools under the holy reign of Michelle Rhee. But the prohibition against teachers grading their own students’ tests was announced earlier in the year, long before those stories broke.
There is something else at work here. Some other message being given. Some other message meant to be received. And as for the alleged cheating in Atlanta and elsewhere, threaten a person’s livelihood with experimental policies that have never worked on the face of the earth, for the sole reason that no other nation on the face of the earth has ever been reckless or stupid enough to implement them, and you are bound to produce crazy, even criminal results. This is not a mystery. People with guns to their heads will do desperate things. The question is not why did they do the desperate things but who put the guns to their heads in the first place and why? Cui bono? Who benefits? The kids? As in “putting kids first?” I think not.

There is a lesson here and it is a lesson that is sure to be learned on one level or another by all of my students. They are intelligent and can put 2 and 2 together. The lesson is this: Teachers are not to be trusted. This is a sick lesson for my students to learn. Sick and damaging in a way, that like dignity and decency, cannot be statistically measured
Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I did not become a teacher to be insulted and treated with abject contempt.
And neither I nor my colleagues will be treated this way.

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7 Responses to “Sickening: May Day in Corporate American Education”

  1. Norm Says:

    I would happily cheat to save certain kids if I could from unfair high stakes. In the old days there were cut-offs for being held back but we could go in and make the case for kids who worked very hard or just missed the cut-off. But my new principal in dec 1978 changed the rules of teacher input: none. It was all by the numbers so if a kid was a question or 2 off out came the eraser.

  2. Mary Says:

    Thank you Patrick, this is all so surreal and incredibly painful. Love this post.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      You are welcome. Painful it is but with our compassion and faith and intelligence we shall out last these vicious fools.

  3. Price Says:

    Most teachers do not opt to cheat despite the so called incentives. Many of us feel we have spent too much financially and emotionally and put too much time in to jeopardize our licenses. I would not do that for my own daughter in college so why for someone else? I think Patrick agrees that most of our colleagues feel the same way?

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      I do. But the point is that no one should put in that situation in the first place. The entire situation is degrading to all parties, students as well as teachers.


  4. Well said, Patrick. I would only add that the same power elite that is impugning the integrity of teachers on the cheating issue is putting the teachers of low scoring students in a vicious and absurd dilemma–cheat and have a better chance of saving your job, or don’t cheat and risk losing it. Sharon Nichols and David Berliner (Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools) say that teachers who cheat under those circumstances are like a poor person who steals to put bread on the table for their kids. Teachers who forgo cheating and risk their jobs are heroic, but the majority of people are not heroic, so when the power elite increase incentives to cheat, there is going to be more cheating. Then the elites take credit for higher test scores, which are inflated by cheating (and especially by narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test)! Campbell’s Law.


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