Nearly sixth months ago, I posted “The Evaluation,” a near-future science fiction short story imagining public school teaching as day-labor inside a techno-bureaucratic panopticon.
Since then, I’ve tried to hold myself accountable for posting about the work that my kids and I do together, which I love and in which I believe. I want to take the energy I’ve put into criticizing “what is” and channel it instead into documenting and sharing “what (I think) should be.”
At the same time, I’ve been writing more of “The Evaluation.” It’s the piece of writing that has most sustained my interest and attention.
Sometimes, I try to be clever just to be clever; it’s a flaw (one of many). I had this big plan to gamify a release of the story at EduCon 2.5. Interoffice mail envelopes addressed to future phantoms and taped under tables. Easter eggs. Stuff.
But that’s kind of silly while life, teaching, and learning in the United States remain sadly, deeply vexing.
It’s not that I’ve giving up on what we do. It’s not that I don’t find joy in the work. It’s not that I’m turing my back on play or any of the other things that should be in our schools and classrooms.
It’s that right now is a time for me to be critical.
Kids deserve care, health, and safety. The deserve to be able to make things – including what we think of as “mistakes” – while building futures that matter to them.
It will be okay if schools eventually go extinct because we will still have people teaching and learning together in community. However, it will only be okay for schools to survive if they become something better – more human and humane – than they are now. And then, maybe, society will follow.
We want our schools to be community centers. We want them to be democratic institutions – safe and engaging places where kids discover “the best of what’s been thought and said” and then go on to make discoveries of their own. But our schools – systemically – are not these things. They never have been. They have only ever carried the potential for being so because of the good people teaching and learning in them. Schools will never realize their potential by being schools.
School cannot act, so we must – and we must act in ways that are antithetical to schooling and the public school system as embodied by the federal department of education, state departments of education, and school boards that are compliant with test-driven state and federal agendas.
Inquiry is an act of rebellion. Unpacking a problem instead of shipping a kid to ISS is a revolt. Learning to live with a less so we can learn more together is a revolution. Moreover, unless we do these things, we will never really see or understand how they are so in the eyes of our colleagues and handlers and the parents and students who have been sold the phony goods of standardized schooling. Equities of access, care, information, and pedagogy are not the same as the equities of pacing guides, seat time, standards, and test-bank questions.
In the end, none of this is really about schools or society; it is about us and our kids all together and whether or not what we expect is really what we need – if playing our roles is the best we can do.
If we refuse both to reevaluate our work and enact inquiry, democracy, and care in our classrooms, then not only is “The Evaluation” what I believe we can expect, it is what we may deserve.
And while there is still time, it is yours.