As I watch the teaching profession be destroyed before my eyes, through bi-partisan initiatives that are difficult to fight and through the march of technology that some view as irreversible, I am filled with anger.
This after all is my life they are rendering obsolete, something that has been a source of pride and excitement for me for nearly 50 years since I first started teaching tennis at age 17 at Camp Kitatinny in Dingmans Falls, New Jersey in the summer of 1963.
The kind of freedom I experienced in teaching high school students in Upward Bound programs in the late 60’s and early 70’s and in teaching college students and graduate students at Fordham University since 1970, is gradually and simultaneously being crushed by “outcomes assessment” and scripted learning, and the replacement of tenured positions like mine with low paid adjunct positions that have no job security. And what I am experiencing in universities is magnified tenfold in the nation’s public schools where surveillance, supervision and assessment have truly reached Orwellian proportions, and where teachers are browbeaten into squeezing all joy out of innocent children as they march them towards passing high stakes tests.
I hate what is going on, and will fight it with every ounce of my energy, but as a historian, I am hardly surprised to see something of value be destroyed both by the impersonal evolution of the economy and by conscious choices of policy makers. After all, I watched the Bronx burn before my eyes in the early 70’s as I took the 3rd Avenue El (elevated train) to Fordham in the early 70’s, and watched it burn some more when the El came down at I started taking the number 4 train up Jerome Avenue.
These fires weren’t abstract to me. They destroyed neighborhoods where I fell in love, played ball, celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, and hung out and heard music in bars and clubs. Watching this, I felt like something precious in my memory was being desecrated, or better yet, like a limb was being violently torn from my body yet I was helpless to stop it.
I joined with organizations which kept the fires from spreading to the Northern parts of the borough and began rebuilding slowly rebuilding devastated areas, but when the smoke cleared, buildings which once held 300,000 people had turned to ashes
Then, ten years later, I watched cities in America’s great industrial heartland be crushed by factory closings that not only destroyed millions of jobs that paid enough to support a family, but crushed the dreams of people whose labor had helped make the US the most prosperous, and one of the most equal nations in the advanced world, leaving huge sections of once vibrant cities looking as though they had suffered aerial bombardment.
As I walked through devastated sections of Detroit, Buffalo, Youngstown, Baltimore and Bridgeport, and saw factories which once employed tens of thousands of people be knocked down, I thought of the what those communities had once been during WWII and the 50’s, and felt tears come into my eyes for what had been lost. once again I could do nothing.
Given these experiences, it would not surprise me for the Education Reformers to have their way and make creative teaching impossible in most American public schools. I will fight them, but I am not sure my efforts will make that much of a difference
But I will say this. I cannot and will not forgive those who profit from the destruction of other people’s livelihoods, institutions and dreams. I reserve the right to resist, along with the right of memory and of moral judgment . And I will never give those up, if only out of respect for those who lives have been crushed by “impersonal” forces which they experienced in the most personal terms.
With A Brooklyn Accent
Saturday, 11 May 2013