Monthly Archives: August 2013

14-Year-Old Girl With Pro-Choice Sign Under Attack: “Please Stop Calling Me a “Whore”

July 23, 2013 
 
My dad came to my defense online, but for the first time I am outing myself publicly. I’m 14. Please stop calling me a whore.
 
 

I’m a 14-year-old girl who has lived in Austin, Texas, my whole life. I like art, music and talking on the phone with my friends. When I grow up, I’d like to become a science teacher.

I also believe in the right to choose and the separation of church and state. Or to put it another way — to put it the way I wrote it when I was protesting at the Capitol last week:

Jesus isn’t a dick so keep him out of my vagina.”

Yes, that’s my sign.

I came up with it last week when my friend and I were trying to think of ideas for what would get people’s attention to protest the scary restrictions that are happening in my state trying to take away a woman’s right to safe and accessible abortions.

It worked.

When my friend and I took turns holding the sign, one of the pictures of her went viral.

Then my dad went online to  defend the sign on Twitter and other online forums.

That’s when people started calling me a “whore.”

I’m going to be honest about what it feels like to be called that as a 14-year-old girl who has never had sex and who doesn’t plan to have sex anytime soon.

I feel disappointed.

It’s hard for me to understand why adults would be calling me this. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would use this term for a 14-year-old girl.

It’s not anyone’s business, but as I said, I am a virgin, and I don’t plan to have sex until I am an adult.

But none of those facts make me feel any less passionate about fighting for a woman’s right to choose and the separation of church and state in my home state of Texas.

I also don’t think this makes me — or any other 14-year-old girl who agrees with me — a whore.

It simply makes us people. People who believe that abortion should be safe, legal and accessible for women. People who believe women should be in control of their bodies and should not ever have to put their lives at risk so that we don’t go backwards in women’s rights in this country.

I know someone who has had a few abortions. She now says that abortion is bad and she fights against a woman’s right to choose.

This makes it all the more important for me to protest, even if I am only 14. In fact, my dad woke me up so that I could watch the Wendy Davis filibuster the night that she tried to prevent this legislation from passing the first time. I remember thinking that I was proud to be from Texas watching her stand up for what is right.

That was when I told my parents that I wanted to join in the protests. I have seen anti-abortion protesters at a clinic near our house, and it makes me upset to see women who are facing this hard decision being told that Jesus condemns them.

I guess I don’t think it seems very Christian to me.

Then again, neither does calling a 14-year-old girl a whore.

The first day that we were out protesting at the Capitol, my friend and I took turns holding up the sign I wrote, and an older man came up to us yelling right in our faces. “You two should shave your heads! You should become lesbians! No man will ever want you! You’re ugly!””

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by | August 8, 2013 · 9:56 pm

I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice’

July 31, 2013, 9:31 am
By CATHERINE NEWMAN

“My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line.

This makes her different from me. Sure, I spent the first half of the ’90s wearing a thrifted suede jacket that I had accessorized with a neon-green sticker across the back, expressing a somewhat negative attitude regarding the patriarchy (let’s just say it’s unprintable here). But even then, I smiled at everyone. Because I wanted everyone to like me. Everyone!

I am a radical, card-carrying feminist, and still I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me. If I had all that energy back — all the hours and neurochemicals and facial musculature I have expended in my wanton pursuit of likedness — I could propel myself to Mars and back. Or, at the very least, write the book “Mars and Back: Gendered Constraints and Wasted Smiling.”

But it is not one thing or another, of course. My mostly pleasant way might get me more freelance work. And friendliness tends to put people at ease — loved ones, neighbors, waitresses — which is a good thing. Plus, smiling probably makes me feel happier, according to all those studies about self-fulfilling emotional prophesies. I know that our sweet-hearted son, who is 13, has always had the experience of niceness being its own reward. What can I do to help? he asks. Please, take mine, he insists, and smiles, and everyone says, “Oh, aren’t you nice!” and “What a lovely young man!” (Or sometimes, because he kind of looks like a girl, “What a lovely young lady!”) But, if I can speak frankly here, you really don’t worry about boys being too nice, do you? He still has the power and privilege of masculinity on his side, so, as far as I’m concerned, the nicer the better.

Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.

I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.

And, currently, she is not in danger. She is decisive and no-nonsense, preferring short hair and soft pants with elastic waistbands. Dresses get in her way, and don’t even get her started on jeans, the snugly revealing allure of which completely mystifies her. She’s the kind of person who donates money to the Animal Welfare Institute and attends assiduously to all the materials they send her, including their dully depressing annual reports, which she keeps in a special folder. Gender stereotypes, among other injustices, infuriate her. “This is so stupid!” she sighs at Target, about the pink rows of dolls and the blue rows of Lego. “Why don’t they just put a penis or a vagina on every toy so you can be completely sure you’re getting the right one?”

She is tender, fierce and passionate — the kind of person who can stroke our pussycat with gentle fingers while she growls at you, her eyebrows a menacing shelf, about bedtime and her plans to avoid it. Even as a 2-year-old, she had the determined wrath and gait of a murderous zombie gnome — and my husband and I grimaced at each other, afraid, over her small and darkly glowering head. She will lift knife and fork, sighing, only if I scold her about eating with all 10 fingers like a caveman, and I have mixed feelings about that.

“She’s very moral,” a friend said recently, and it was not a compliment. She is the kid who can be a pain the neck at a play date, insisting on the rigors of turn-taking, of fair-sharing, of tidying up before the guests vamoose and leave her with an afternoon of mess to deal with. That said, though, she’s got your back. She is a patron saint of babies and animals, of the excluded or teased. “That’s not right,” she’s not afraid to say. “Stop it.”

She is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.

I picture her at the prom in stripy cotton pajamas, eating potato chips with both hands. I picture her slapping a patriarch-damning sticker on her jacket. I picture her running the country, saving the world, being exactly the kind of good bad girl that she knows herself to be. And I think: You go. I think: Fly! I think: Take me with you.


 

Catherine Newman, the author of Waiting for Birdy, writes atwww.benandbirdy.blogspot.com.”

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by | August 8, 2013 · 9:54 pm

This Is Not Just A Story About Prostitution

by COBURN DUKEHART

August 07, 2013 8:31 AM
  • Eden is a prostitute who was recently arrested and is awaiting a court hearing. Here, she waits outside the Richmond, Va., train station for her mother to pick her up.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Tensions are high when Eden tells her mother about her work as a prostitute. It was the first time they discussed her profession at length.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden's mother is upset about the idea of her daughter having sex for money.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Despite their disagreements, Eden's mother loves and supports her daughter.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden lies on the rooftop of her mother's home to reflect on old times in Lancaster, Va., and contemplate the possibility of going to jail.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden hangs her work clothes out to dry.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden gets ready for her court hearing.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • On the way to the court hearing in Annapolis, Md.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden waits nervously outside of the courtroom as she rereads a speech she has prepared for the hearing.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • The prosecutor explains the court procedure to Eden and lets her know that she may postpone the hearing if she elects to hire a lawyer. She decides against it.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden's mother waits outside of the courtroom.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • After court, her mother drives Eden to the Baltimore train station where she travels to Philadelphia and finally takes a taxi to the small town that she frequently works out of. Sad that they couldn't spend more time together, her mother kisses her daughter goodbye and wishes her the best.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • On the way to Philadelphia.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Relieved about the outcome of the hearing, Eden takes a nap on the train to rest before a long night of work.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • After arriving in her hotel room, Eden quickly prepares the room and herself for customers.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden gets ready for clients.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden counts the money she has made in the past four days. Due to the manner in which the money was obtained, she is unable to deposit it into the bank and is forced to carry it around with her.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Weekends are the slowest days of the week because customers find it hard to get away from their responsibilities. When not reading or writing, Eden often finds herself bored and alone in her hotel room.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Because of Eden's unconventional work schedule, she takes frequent naps throughout the day in order to get rest. Her cellphone is always within reach so she doesn't miss a customer's call.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera
  • Eden takes off her wig once a customer leaves the room, to return to her "real" self.
     
    Courtesy of Alicia Vera

“First, a word of warning: This story features photos about prostitution. But under the surface, it’s more than that. It’s a story about photographic access, and how a friendship led to an intimate portrayal of a taboo subject. These are not just photos about prostitution; they’re photos about a woman who goes by the name Eden. Taken by Alicia. Her friend.

When I was studying photojournalism in grad school, one of the most important lessons I learned was that you can’t make good pictures without understanding the story. And you can’t understand the story without getting to know the people you are photographing. You have to build relationships — and trust.

And in the case of these photos, Eden trusted photographer Alicia Vera enough to let her witness some extremely vulnerable moments.

Alicia is from Miami, and is the first member of her family to be born in the U.S. She took a basic photo class at Miami Dade College in 2004, and says she was always interested in photographing strippers. She went around to every strip club in Miami looking for access, but was always turned away.

She enrolled in a photo program in San Francisco, and later answered a Craigslist ad to work in a “nice office space doing social media” for the adult entertainment industry. That job eventually got her the access to strip clubs that she had wanted all along.

While photographing in the clubs, Alicia met Eden, who was 18 at the time. “I introduced myself — we just clicked,” she says. “We became really close friends.”

At the time, Eden told Alicia that she was never going to do “extras” — exchanging sex for money. But she later apprenticed herself to a working prostitute, learned the trade, and started working out of a small town in Pennsylvania — which is where she got arrested.

Alicia, who is now living in Mexico City, asked if she could photograph her in court.

“We have a really, really close relationship. She had seen the work I had done on strippers and knew that I wouldn’t portray her in a negative light. She’s really excited about the photos — she loves them, she understood the photographic process,” Vera said on the phone.

The result is the photo essay above, which was shot in March over a period of a week. The full edit (containing photos we can’t publish here) can be seen on Vera’s website, along with a longer story about Eden.

“I was surprised by how businessy it was,” said Alicia. “Most of the time she was bored, reading, writing, smoking and posting ads. I began to see it as just another job.”

Eden now lives in San Francisco but commutes back to Pennsylvania to work as a prostitute. Eden told Alicia she can make up to $20K in just five days of work. She puts it away in a savings account, and says she plans to quit by the time she’s 25.

“She’s a really creative girl,” said Alicia. “That’s part of the reason why I was attracted to her — she was different than the other girls. I wanted to show that not every prostitute or stripper has just one story.”

And that is the story we present to you today. One of friendship, intimacy, access and trust.”

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by | August 8, 2013 · 9:47 pm

Thoughts on Life and Art

I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past couple months, mostly due to my general unemployed-ness (I’ve been picking up a few odd part times jobs here and there to pay the bills, of course, but I mostly consider myself unemployed).

And one thing, among many, that I can’t help but notice is the apparent continuation of the contemporary trend I wrote my thesis* on: western society’s overwhelming transfiguration of “the other.” Or, in more simple terms, our glorification of, adoption of outward form and appearance of, and transformation and attempt to constructively collaborate with “the other” (aka other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, and so on and so forth).

This trend first developed in the world of “high art” as a response to the deconstructive-ness of postmodernism. Postmodern artists deconstructed the hierarchical western canon, claiming, for example, “Hey! Black and women artists are just as important as those old white guys!”

But once the canon was turned upside down, artists were left feeling a bit lost. It’s like emerging from a bomb shelter after a nuclear war and realizing that all is chaos. Thus, artists started returning to the basics, the building blocks of how living things interpret and experience their environments.

This caused artists in the 60s and 70s, for example, to start exploring the five senses and performance art; how the audience directly experiences a piece of art.

Some artists have started to glorify and exalt “the other,” effectively starting the transfiguration movement. One more contemporary, popular culture example of this is the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler as the Phantom.

In the 1909 book, the Phantom is an ugly, terrifying creature. In the 1925 film and the 1976 musical, he is human, but remarkably deformed. In the 2004 film, he is a downright sex object. He is viewed as a valid romantic interest for Christine and we, as the audience, are encouraged to empathize with him.

Other artists glorified the imperfect human body since the western canon had previously only accepted the idealized human body The imperfect human body, here, is considered “the other” simply because it had been previously ignored or sugar-coated in art. This includes artists like Jenny Saville and Kiki Smith (see below images).

 

High-res →

Jenny Saville – Hem
oil on canvas – 1998-1999

 

“Semen” — part of “Untitled”, Kiki Smith, 1987-90.

In the second phase of the transfiguration movement, artists wish to change their own outward form and appearance to adopt the appearance of “the other.” This includes artists like Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena (see below image.)

But this phase also includes more contemporary artists like Iggy Azalea and Lady Gaga when they dress in Middle Eastern and Indian garb (see below images).

Some would argue that the above artists are involved in cultural festishization, but that is a discussion for another time.

In the third phase, artists wish to transform global perspectives and encourage constructive collaboration across cultures. They do this in a variety of ways, some involve the audience in the artwork giving the spectators the chance to become the art-makers (performance art) and some attempt to understand the world from “the other’s” perspective.

Take the picture above, for example, that is a perfect example of the internet’s response to the infamous Shark Week. We are encouraged to place ourselves in the shark’s position, an animal typically feared or “other-ed.” But instead of fearing the shark, we empathize with it.

This phase is also evident in recent Disney movies like Finding Nemo and Shrek. No longer are sharks and orges scary monsters, but relatable protagonists.

 

image

 

This transfiguration movement is not just cultural, either, it has extended into politics and society at large. It is seen in the LGBT movement, the movement to accept those with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities, and, in the popular culture world, the hipster movement; it is now hip to be geek.

I see instances of contemporary transfiguration every day, and every time I see one, I want to scream out “There! Look, people!” Because art is no longer separate from culture. And culture is no longer separate from politics and societal movements.

I now use Tumblr and Facebook as my primary news sources, with a little New York Times and NPR thrown in for fact-checking. I no longer need to subscribe to fashion magazines because it’s all here.

That is what makes the regulation of the internet so troubling for some. How can we control the flow of knowledge and information if everything is available to all? Who can hold power?

That is exactly why I’m excited and scared by the future at the same time.

At this moment, actually, I’m staring at the Tumblr-suggested post to the right of my screen (if I can, I will reblog it once I finish this post, but I can also describe it for you guys just in case).

It’s a drawing of a computer (laptop?) and emerging from the screen, breaking the fourth wall as we call it in theater, are three raised fists. One is white, one is yellow, and one is green. And there are two sets of three “action” lines on either side of the hands. I see these as the hands of people around the world, sharing, learning, collaborating, and exalting through the computer, the internet.

I think I read somewhere that recently some organization gave a bunch of laptops to a poverty-stricken town in a third world country in Africa. They rigged the laptops so that they had limited capabilities for the people in the town, so that the people “would use them for the right reasons.” The people received these laptops, the first computers they’ve seen in their life, and within hours they had hacked into them and deleted all the restrictions the organization had programmed into them.

That is exactly what people in power are afraid of: giving the oppressed, the poor, the uneducated unlimited access to the information of the world.

I realize this post has veered off course, if this were an academic paper I would be agonizing over how the fuck I was going to conclude this in any logical way. But, hey, I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my mind and this is what happened.

Call it art. Call it bullshit. Call it what you will.

Welcome to Claire’s (unemployed) mind.

*thesis can be found at: https://www.academia.edu/1504353/Contemporary_Post-postmodernism_Transfiguring_the_Imperfect_Human_Body

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by | August 8, 2013 · 9:35 pm

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

By Valerie Strauss, Published: February 9 at 12:00 pm

“For more than a decade now we have heard that the high-stakes testing obsession in K-12 education that began with the enactment of No Child Left Behind 11 years ago has resulted in high school graduates who don’t think as analytically or as broadly as they should because so much emphasis has been placed on passing standardized tests. Here, an award-winning high school teacher who just retired, Kenneth Bernstein, warns college professors what they are up against. Bernstein, who lives near Washington, D.C. serves as a peer reviewer for educational journals and publishers, and he is nationally known as the blogger “teacherken.” His e-mail address is kber@earthlink.net. This appeared inAcademe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors.

By Kenneth Bernstein

You are a college professor.

I have just retired as a high school teacher.

I have some bad news for you. In case you do not already see what is happening, I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.

No Child Left Behind went into effect for the 2002–03 academic year, which means that America’s public schools have been operating under the pressures and constrictions imposed by that law for a decade. Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in your institution have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements. While it is true that the U.S. Department of Education is now issuing waivers on some of the provisions of the law to certain states, those states must agree to other provisions that will have as deleterious an effect on real student learning as did No Child Left Behind—we have already seen that in public schools, most notably in high schools.

Troubling Assessments

My primary course as a teacher was government, and for the last seven years that included three or four (out of six) sections of Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics. My students, mostly tenth graders, were quite bright, but already I was seeing the impact of federal education policy on their learning and skills.

In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift.

Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education.

Recognizing this, those of us in public schools do what we can to work on those higher-order skills, but we are limited. Remember, high schools also have tests—No Child Left Behind and its progeny (such as Race to the Top) require testing at least once in high school in reading and math. In Maryland, where I taught, those tests were the state’s High School Assessments in tenth-grade English and algebra (which some of our more gifted pupils had taken as early as eighth grade). High schools are also forced to focus on preparing students for tests, and that leads to a narrowing of what we can accomplish in our classrooms.

I mentioned that at least half my students were in AP classes. The explosive growth of these classes, driven in part by high school rankings like the yearly Challenge Indexcreated by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, is also responsible for some of the problems you will encounter with students entering your institutions. The College Board did recognize that not everything being labeled as AP met the standards of a college-level course, so it required teachers to submit syllabi for approval to ensure a minimal degree of rigor, at least on paper. But many of the courses still focus on the AP exam, and that focus can be as detrimental to learning as the kinds of tests imposed under No Child Left Behind.

Let me use as an example my own AP course, U.S. Government and Politics. I served several times as a reader for the examination that follows the course. In that capacity, I read the constructed responses that make up half of the score of a student’s examination. I saw several problems.

First (and I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here), in the AP U.S. Government exam the constructed responses are called “free response questions” and are graded by a rubric that is concerned primarily with content and, to a lesser degree, argument. If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words. Thus, a teacher might prepare the student to answer those questions in a format that is not good writing by any standard. If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support. Some critical thinkingmay be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics.

My students did well on those questions because we practiced bad writing. My teaching was not evaluated on the basis of how well my students did, but I felt I had a responsibility to prepare them for the examination in a way that could result in their obtaining college credit.

I would like to believe that I prepared them to think more critically and to present cogent arguments, but I could not simultaneously prepare them to do well on that portion of the test and teach them to write in a fashion that would properly serve them at higher levels of education.

Even during those times when I could assign work that required proper writing, I was limited in how much work I could do on their writing. I had too many students. In my final year, with four sections of Advanced Placement, I had 129 AP students (as well as an additional forty-six students in my other two classes). A teacher cannot possibly give that many students the individualized attention they need to improve their writing. Do the math. Imagine that I assign all my students a written exercise. Let’s assume that 160 actually turn it in. Let’s further assume that I am a fast reader, and I can read and correct papers at a rate of one every three minutes. That’s eight hours—for one assignment. If it takes a more realistic five minutes per paper, the total is more than thirteen hours.

Further, the AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level. I learned to balance these seemingly contradictory requirements. For much of the content I would give students summary information, sufficient to answer multiple-choice questions and to get some of the points on rubrics for the free response questions. That allowed me more time for class discussions and for relating events in the news to what we learned in class, making the class more engaging for the students and resulting in deeper learning because the discussions were relevant to their lives.

From what I saw from the free response questions I read, too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had.

The structure of testing has led to students arriving at our school without what previously would have been considered requisite background knowledge in social studies, but the problem is not limited to this field. Students often do not get exposure to art or music or other nontested subjects. In high-need schools, resources not directly related to testing are eliminated: at the time of the teachers’ strike last fall, 160 Chicago public schools had no libraries. Class sizes exceeded forty students—in elementary school.

A Teacher’s Plea

As a retired public school teacher, I believe I have a responsibility to offer a caution to college professors, or perhaps to make a plea.

Please do not blame those of us in public schools for how unprepared for higher education the students arriving at your institutions are. We have very little say in what is happening to public education. Even the most distinguished and honored among us have trouble getting our voices heard in the discussion about educational policy. The National Teacher of the Year is supposed to be the representative of America’s teachers—if he or she cannot get teachers’ voices included, imagine how difficult it is for the rest of us. That is why, if you have not seen it, I strongly urge you to read 2009 National Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen’s famous blog post, “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.” After listening to noneducators bloviate about schools and teaching without once asking for his opinion, he was finally asked what he thought. He offered the following:

Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending noneducators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value. “I’m thinking about the current health-care debate,” I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”

The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.

“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”

During my years in the classroom I tried to educate other adults about the realities of schools and students and teaching. I tried to help them understand the deleterious impact of policies that were being imposed on our public schools. I blogged, I wrote letters and op-eds for newspapers, and I spent a great deal of time speaking with and lobbying those in a position to influence policy, up to and including sitting members of the US House of Representatives and Senate and relevant members of their staffs. Ultimately, it was to little avail, because the drivers of the policies that are changing our schools—and thus increasingly presenting you with students ever less prepared for postsecondary academic work—are the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage.

If you, as a higher education professional, are concerned about the quality of students arriving at your institution, you have a responsibility to step up and speak out. You need to inform those creating the policies about the damage they are doing to our young people, and how they are undermining those institutions in which you labor to make a difference in the minds and the lives of the young people you teach as well as in the fields in which you do your research.

You should have a further selfish motivation. Those who have imposed the mindless and destructive patterns of misuse of tests to drive policy in K–12 education are already moving to impose it on higher education, at least in the case of the departments and schools of education that prepare teachers: they want to “rate” those departments by the test scores of the students taught by their graduates.

If you, as someone who teaches in the liberal arts or engineering or business, think that this development does not concern you, think again. It is not just that schools and colleges of education are major sources of revenue for colleges and universities—they are in fact often cash cows, which is why so many institutions lobby to be able initially to certify teachers and then to offer the courses (and degrees) required for continuing certification. If strictures like these can be imposed on schools and colleges of education, the time will be short before similar kinds of measure are imposed on other schools, including liberal arts, engineering, business, and conceivably even professional schools like medicine and law. If you teach either in a medical school or in programs that offer courses required as part of the pre-med curriculum, do you want the fatality rates of patients treated by the doctors whom you have taught to be used to judge your performance? If you think that won’t happen because you work at a private institution, remember that it is the rare private university that does not receive some form of funding from governments, local to national. Research grants are one example; the scholarships and loans used by students to attend your institution are another.

Let me end by offering my deepest apologies, not because I may have offended some of you by what I have written, but because even those of us who understood the problems that were being created were unable to do more to stop the damage to the education of our young people. Many of us tried. We entered teaching because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students who passed through our classrooms. Many of us are leaving sooner than we had planned because the policies already in effect and those now being implemented mean that we are increasingly restricted in how and what we teach.

Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.”

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by | August 8, 2013 · 7:15 pm