Saturday, July 6, 2013

Speaking of Sheep and Badass Wolves

Originally posted on
Reposted with original author's permission

After cuts to education hit Pennsylvania, a group of educators came up with a unique answer on how to make do. In some schools they released sheep to substitute for cutting the grass. It was cost effective because the sheep belonged to a middle school principal and he was willing to offer them free of charge for the grazing rights. 1)

But the vision this conjures up in my mind is that of sheep grazing, being sheared, being herded and even slaughtered. And that makes me think of teachers.

It is not a great leap of imagination as you may think at first glance. I think of sheep because teachers are well known for not rocking the boat. They are told that there is no money for the supplies they need, so they go out and buy them. They are directed to do things that they know are at odds with their training and research and yet they do them. They are given more and more work to do in their scheduled day as if they have blocks of unused time and they find a way to incorporate the mandates at the expense of the depth of instruction and time for reflection. They are told to assess children in skills they are not prepared to learn, so they teach those skills despite the schisms it creates in student’s learning.

As teachers we have been sheep.

Wait a minute. Did you hear that? Maybe, just maybe, some teachers have shed their sheep’s clothing for a new, more aggressive raiment.

There are some wolves howling in the woods and their howls grow nearer.

I was pleased to begin following a new group this week that is labeling itself: Bad Ass Teachers. 2) Go to their Facebook page and read their declaration of intent. It is a manifesto unlike most I have seen from sites purporting to be dedicated to education. And they are supported by no less than the iconic Diane Ravitch (my personal guru) and Dr. Steven Krashen: true heavyweights of educational theory and practice! I am in awe of the response they have elicited in a very brief period and yet I am guardedly cautious in my optimism that perhaps the revolution has finally begun.

I have been here before.

The educational landscape is littered with the forlorn debris of ‘ideas that will change public education as we know it forever’. Promises made and promises kept are two radically different things. One is an idea; the other is practice. Many seem to be willing to jump on the bandwagon but will they stay after the band goes home? It is easy to add your voice to others who are already shouting but to continue to shout when you are alone takes grit. Teachers need to cultivate this grit now and fight for the profession they have chosen, the profession they profess to love.

As educators we have been under attack for some time: “It’s teachers fault.” “Teachers make too much money.” “Why do teachers need a union they have all they want.” “They only work part-time as it is.” Choose your stereotype. Like all stereotypes there is a germ of truth in each one but when viewed as a unerring rule they falter rapidly. It’s a matter of distance. Seen from far away the generality can be believed and even touted. But when you get up close, in the bright light of day you realize that by and large those stereotypes will shrivel and die.

“But isn’t this organization trying to promote a stereotype?” you say. “Aren’t these ‘bad-asses’ just posturing for attention?”

Maybe, maybe they are simply sheep in wolves clothing . . . or maybe they are real wolves. A pack of snarling wolves, their hackles raised in indignation at the continued slaughter that threatens their extinction.

I’ll tell you what — let’s move closer and see if they bite. You go first.




Written by:
Marc Severson

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