To Refuse It All?

When teachers publicly resign, we take note and listen. I began crafting this post after Deborah S. Howard touched our hearts with her moving letter of resignation. And now, Ellie Rubenstein joins the growing ranks of teachers who can bear it no longer. Her public resignation is powerful and emotional. Her well-delivered and poignant video essay describes how her profession is being destroyed and she states that “unless you are a ‘yes’ man, you soon find out that your only choice is to become one or leave.”

We are forced to confront the terrible realities of what public education has become and how committed educators are being driven away from a once beloved profession. I think we all understand their decisions. We mourn their leaving, yet wish them well and hold no animosity toward them for freeing themselves from the ever deadening and increasingly numbing experience that teaching has become. The reality is that education has been transformed over the past few years by the overkill of mandates, excessive testing, and standardization–a reality that suffocates many.

We often look to teachers like Ms. Howard and Ms. Rubenstein as heroes and leaders. Many teachers dreamt of teaching since they were children themselves. To abandon a dream is a difficult thing to do. But for those who choose to leave, it is because the dream has become a nightmare. On many levels, uncertainty awaits them. For most, there will be financial challenges without a regular paycheck. So, when teachers like Ms. Howard and Ms. Rubenstein leave the profession, we are starkly reminded that, YES it is that bad. As we applaud their decisions to refuse (and I do applaud it), let us not lose sight of the many teachers for whom this action is just not an option. They too are our heroes, still deep in the trenches, not just watching but experiencing their profession being continually dismantled around them. I know that many wish they too could leave, but for most this is just not possible.

Recently, I made a decision to withdraw my son from PreK and I have no intentions of sending him to kindergarten next year. I do not know what the future holds for us, but like Ms. Howard, Ms. Rubenstein and the many other teachers who left the profession, my son was suffocating in his school experience and I couldn’t allow it to continue. As a parent, I want the best for my children, and sometimes I must make difficult decisions–decisions that are in my kids’ best interests for I am their strongest and most sincere advocate.

This post is about refusing.  Call it resigning, quitting, moving on, freeing one’s self… call it what you want. It can mean different things to different people, and that’s ok. I began crafting this post, after noticing a sort of hypocrisy when it comes to our reactions when teachers quit versus when parents decide to do the same. Over the past half year or so, there have been several public teacher resignations before Ms. Howard and Ms. Rubenstein.  In each case, the news of their departure has been similar: it saddens us that the state of education has turned this course, and at the same time we heroize these individuals for their brave decisions. But why do we feel that the terrorists will win when a parent choses to refuse the system? I have witnessed numerous Facebook and blog conversations about education when the mention of removing children from the system entirely in reaction to the current state of education has incited a barrage of comments suggesting it would be giving up, playing into the reformers’ hands, retreating, abandoning ship, or not fighting back.

The truth is that the current environment in our public schools is a suffocating one, not just for teachers, but for students and their parents as well.  And if one can’t breathe, one cannot fight. Like the oxgen bags in the airplanes, one must first save one’s self before attending to the welfare of others. I think every parent would agree that a parent’s primary concern is their own children’s well-being. I cannot justify the suffering of my child when I don’t have to just to prove a point. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about public education anymore. I FULLY understand that refusing the entire system is NOT a luxury available to everyone. It is for those that remain that I continue to advocate for a quality education for all. Let me just state for the record that I have every intention of remaining in this fight for public education. Yes, there will be those that leave and never look back. Yes, this is unfortunate. But let us not forget the many teachers and parents who either willingly or blindly comply and conform with that which is eating away at REAL education. They are no more in this fight than the individuals who jump ship and steal the life raft.

Prior to my decision to homeschool (at least temporarily), I had always known I would send my children to our local public school; Homeschooling never occurred to me, private school did not interest me. Education in public school today is not as I had naively assumed less than a year ago, and it certainly doesn’t resemble my own public school experience.  So, I have chosen homeschooling for the time being. But, I firmly believe that quality public education is in everyone’s best interest and I have many reasons to fight.  My children might find themselves there one day.  This is my community.  The derailing of public education is happening to people I care about and it is happening to people in communities all across the United States! I understand that most do not have the option to homeschool or send their kids to private school. I do NOT want to see the future divided by those who received a quality education and those that did not.

To be sure there will be those, both teachers and parents, that will wipe their hands of this dirty mess, never to look back. But some of the most outspoken and well-versed critics are teachers, retired or resigned, who are no longer under the thumb of those that control the system. And the thing to remember is that there are many strong advocates of public education that do not teach and do not have children in public school. There are allies in all walks of life. The resistance to ed. reform comes in all forms. Some are more outspoken than others, but we are all players and we are all important and we all have our own voice to lend to the conversation. And I believe that as the voices vary, and even when we disagree, the conversation becomes more nuanced and more meaningful.

I do not write this in the spirit of elevating myself to some kind of heroic status like the teachers who say NO MORE–not at all! It write it simply to clear the air and say we are all in the same fight, and we can all be valuable allies. We all have something unique to offer, I believe. And we all fight the fight in different ways, both big and small.

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10 thoughts on “To Refuse It All?

  1. Pingback: Updated: List of Public Teacher Resignations | Teacher Under Construction

  2. Were you a school teacher?

    I’m curious because I am homeschooling (my first year was this 2012-2013 year) my 3rd grader and your words could have been mine EXCEPT I was frustrated with the loosey goosey, creative-focused teaching which did not teach to proficiency but left that to the parents. You seem to be from a district which is the opposite and you are dissatisfied (though pre-K seems too young to get a true sense of the learning environment).

    Did you have an older child in the school?

    Have you read the Common Core standards?

    I’m just really intrigued by how two people can have the same reaction to polar opposite situations (or seemingly so).

  3. I have my son in Catholic school, we are dedicated Catholics, so we even have to be watchful what goes on. The religion classes are basic, too basic, and not enough for us. We have to supplement. Which of course is our job a parent. We are also forming a parent group that will add programs to the religion classes. . Common core is in the Catholic School and it is anti-Catholic (every much kept a secret by the admin, or they are just ignorant), the sex ed curriculum is scary, and common sense math in not in the common core. We will home school for high school, since high school Catholic school is double the cost. The love of learning is not there, I believe that. If you don’t have a love of learning, then the teacher becomes a glorified baby sitter. (which is what public school is, esp. after WWII when women felt they belonged in the work place—not all women, thank goodness)

  4. Hi Cindy0803 & Lisa,

    Thank you for your comments. I’d like to respond to both of you in general to begin with and say that it is a beautiful thing that all of our children are very different and have different needs and different connections to learning. We as parents and families are also different and might have different views on education. The three of us decided to homeschool at different times and because of different reasons because we recognize that something was missing in accord to our different needs.

    For me personally, I believe there is no right or wrong answer, but I feel that education is shifting so that it services just a narrow range of children and many children are left out and their needs are not being met. PreK might seem like it’s too early to make a decision about school, but I have made it my mission to educate myself about what to expect in the system. I have talked to many teachers and many parents, and I have been very active in the anti-reform movement to have a pretty good sense that my son will be better off at home… at least for a few years. Right now I am the most concerned about the early elementary years and the Common Core promoting materials that are not developmentally appropriate. Who knows what the later years will bring… if we will continue to homeschool or try public school again. We will play it by ear and respond to the needs and wants of our children. I do believe that the best “skill” children need to succeed in any learning environment is a love of learning, and my son was already hating school.

    I’ve never been a teacher and my 5-year-old is my oldest child, but we live in a very small district and I know enough parents with older children to understand what kindergarten will entail next year. I have read the Common Core standards, and again my biggest problem lies in the developmental inappropriate nature of the standards and that we are pushing harder and harder to raise the academic bar, and that this is becoming such a primary focus and many other important things are being left out. I believe in a balanced and well-rounded education, and one that focuses on ELA and math with test after test after test, with worksheets to boot does not fit the bill in my opinion. For the record, I believe in high standards and accountability, but much of this can be accomplished at the local level.

    Right now, the Common Core can never work because everything ends in a high-stakes tests, with not only our students becoming stressed out over whether or not they can succeed, but teachers and schools are being judged as well. It is inevitable that curriculum will be narrowed and lessons will be focused on the test, and that this will, in the long-run, be the antithesis of high standards. A one-size-fits-all approach will only work for certain children, and many will quickly become disengaged from learning… they will hate it. I personally do not believe in standardization–customization is more my cup of tea–but as long as pubic education is dominated by excessive testing, I can never support the Common Core.

    I am also greatly displeased how corporate interests are becoming more and more involved in public education. Many of these education reforms are funded heavily and created by corporate interests and non-educators. Our schools too are bleeding financially with all the mandates being imposed on them. And now we have even more to worry about with private student data being collected and stored on inBloom’s cloud.

    Teachers are not being listened to. Parent voices are also ignored. Children as individuals are almost non-existent in the eyes of the state.

    For right now, I honestly do not feel comfortable sending my children to school.

  5. Danielle – there really isn’t anything for me to add to this. You have put to pen all that has been on my mind and in my heart about the state of public education for the past few years. I imagine there are countless others like us out there, for whom all you have written is also true. I have struggled with fighting from within the system, or from without. I have struggled with wanting to leave and the sick feeling of abandoning ship, leaving behind those who have not yet found their voice.

    Thank you for addressing the concerns of those for whom the desire to fight the system is very real, but for whom refusing or leaving the system may not be an option. It speaks to those who might be tempted to say, “If you don’t like it – do something – leave – there’s always private school; because it’s easier to say that to someone without options, than to change what’s wrong with the system.

    For those who see the big picture, with lines clearly drawn, the issues are obvious. It is difficult for us to understand how some can be so blind to, or even go along with the injustices of the current system. For some, things are… OK for my child, so why rock the boat? Perhaps it’s just that the devil we know is safer than the devil we don’t know.

    I do think more and more though, that nationwide, parents and teachers are building to a boiling point – a critical mass, which, when we finally boil over, just as a pot boiled over, will create a far greater mess to clean up, than if we had prevented the mess in the first place.
    For those who have already reached their boiling point, the only authentic choice they felt able to make was to leave, resign, refuse, opt out, or to finally speak out. Speaking out is often done at great personal risk. For those who have been vocal, the risk was often preferable to silently going along for even one more minute.

    Truly transforming public education will demand compromise and a greater political will, from all of us, in far greater proportion than many have considered. It may come to a point where we will all have to put our money where our mouth is or shut up and go home.

    On the fear of change, someone once said to me, “People won’t change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.”

    Wherever that point is, I think we’re getting there.

  6. After 16 years of education, I am resigning my job as a senior high-school teacher in Norway, this spring. Sadly, we are experiencing the same development here in Scandinavia. Instrumentalism and new public-management is taking over the school-systems here as well. I was deeply touched by mrs. Rubinsteins video. Best regards,
    Mrs. Reidun Johannessen, Norway

    • Good luck to you Ms Johannessen! It is truly sad to see these types of negative reforms taking place across the globe. Perhaps one day, the critical mass that Zennmother describes will come from all over the world and be eve more powerful than we initially thought possible.

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