Around the year 445 B.C., Artaxerxes ruled as the Great King of Persia. His cupbearer, a Jewish man named Nehemiah, asked the Great King to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall that had encircled the city. When permission had been granted, Nehemiah did just that, but quickly encountered opposition from Israel's enemies. Nehemiah realized that the builders were going to have to do more than was in their job description. In the Book of Nehemiah, Chapter 4, verses 17-18, we read,
Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.
|From Treasures of the Bible, Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D., International Publishing Company, 1894.|
American education has become the battlefield on which a war is being fought. On one side are educators, families, and children who care about our heritage, our future, and the humane goals of true education. On the other are dehumanizing forces that use weapons of control and misguided testing and evaluative tools to rout the advancement of the true, the good, and the beautiful and to install a hegemony of pragmatism that seeks nothing more than a productive labor force.
Like those ancient builders, teachers must continue their work of construction. We are building futures and shaping lives. This work must go on even during the war. We cannot tell a generation of students to put their lives on hold while adults, many of whom hold the title thanks solely to biological age, figure out what to do. We must, instead, as in the days of Nehemiah, arm our teachers both to build and to fight.
The construction tools and the practice in how to use them are found in our university schools of education, and it is here that our pre-service teachers must also receive their training for war. For example, we must help those about to seek teaching jobs to ask the right kinds of questions in their interviews. How much freedom and autonomy do you provide your teachers? What system do you have in place to mentor new teachers? What is your structure for advancement and leadership? How do you honor your teachers? What practices do you have in place to make sure that the best stay and grow in the profession?
When the first round of trite and canned answers drop from the sky, our next generation of teachers must be prepared to push back. They must be trained to see through deception and obfuscation. They must be equipped to spot the desperate grasp for answers to questions that may not have been asked before.
And when they find themselves in their first classroom, emailing their parents about their joyful expectation of working with children and teens to discover the wonders of the world, they must feel the sword at their side. With tablet and marker in one hand, they will continue the work of construction, building into the lives of our children. With the other, they will continue to fight for more humane working conditions, models of student and teacher evaluation that make sense based on the complex and human nature of education, and school environments where freedom rules instead of fear.
More is needed and expected from the teachers of today. They must be builders and warriors both. In keeping with the military theme, but borrowing from another ancient story, I ask them. "Who will stand on my right hand and keep the bridge with me?"