Monday, February 17, 2014

Workin' For a Livin'

There was Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," famously covered by Ike and Tina Turner.

Left a good job in the city
Workin' for the man every night and day

There was Huey Lewis and the News with "Workin' For a Livin'."

Workin' for a livin', livin' and workin'
I'm taking what they're giving 'cause I'm workin' for a livin'

I'm always workin', savin', every day
Gotta get away from that same old, same old

Johnny Paycheck sang the worker's anthem "Take This Job And Shove It."

I've been working in this factory
For nigh on fifteen years

All this time I watched my woman

Drowning in a pool of tears

And then there is the classic by Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Sixteen Tons."

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt

Do you see a theme?  How many more songs, stories, or movie and television plots could you add to the list?  We have gone from honoring good, hard work to idolizing it, thus making it something to crush the soul.  Perhaps it is because we have jettisoned the idea of a soul altogether and really do believe that people are made out of nothing more than muscle and blood.  If this Pink Floydian vision of people is correct, then the current work environment in many schools...for students, teachers, and administrators...makes perfect sense.

But what if it is not accurate?  What if I was wrong when I felt pride during my first year of teaching as our assistant principal remarked admiringly on young teachers working late?  I can only imagine how proud he would have been had he seen me awake at 3:00 in the morning working on lessons and wracked with an anxiety level that should have sent me to the hospital.  What if my relative was wrong in extolling how she and other members of our family had never missed a day of teaching and always asked, whenever I was absent, if I felt guilty or bad about being out of the classroom?  What if those who mandate where and when teachers meet and do their non-teaching work are just simply wrong?

Josh Stumpenhorst, 2012 Illinois Teacher of the Year, recently tweeted this article.  If you are an American teacher, you may not want to read it at work.  Then again, you may want to forward it to all your colleagues.

I am all for doing your best and giving it your all.  I am not for an absurd, crack-the-whip, bricks-without-straw mentality that drains the life from people or from this most human of enterprises we call education.  There is a reason the vast majority of subjects taught pre-K through 12 fall under the heading of humanities.  It is a human work we are about, and one that should be conducted in a humane way.  So here is a sobering thought, one born of common sense, the awareness that we live in a free country, and supported by the Tim Walker article above.  Before I state it, be warned.  It may keep you up at night.  It is likely to unsettle you.  It may force you to do something.


The dehumanizing atmosphere of American education really doesn't have to be this way.

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