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.