13 January 2011

In which I ask you for advice...... well that's a little awkward, isn't it?

Ok, fans of the BlazeBlog. Normally, I use this space to rant ferociously about the problems I see and encounter on a daily,  sometimes hourly basis. Some days I go all Jon Stewart, and just use my virtual soapbox to expose absurdity in public education. I generally deal in anger and hyperbole. But today is different. Today, I'm at a loss. No, not a loss of words. Such a thing is basically impossible. I talk to myself in the shower because it isn't loud enough in there.

Nope, I'm at a loss of ideas.

I'm at a decision point and need some advice. (No, I'm not going to read Dubya's "book" to get advice on making decisions. Maybe I'll visit his "decision theater", but I'm not reading the book. If I had Voldemort's number, I'd give him a buzz, but I don't have those digits.) So, lacking influential and knowledgeable co-writers, the BlazeBlog turns to you, its good looking and likable (if not powerful) readers.

Here's the problem I face. There is a proposal on the table at my current employer to restructure the schools in a radical way. It would convince the state to allow us to operate basically as charter schools. It would allow for the privatization of services such as the custodial and bus driving arts. (two services close to my summer-time heart) It would put public schools into competition with one another for students, and for their funds. It would give parents enormous control over their childrens' schools, since the student would take funds with them, even if they moved mid-year. Parents who objected to material being discussed could use the funds that were attached to their child to influence administrators to curb teaching of certain controversial topics. 

(If you don't know how I feel about parents and the educational process, you can always check out this little entry and its near relation, these words of wisdom.)

If you know much about me, or my educational viewpoint, you know that these changes fly in the face of many things I believe in, philosophically. I oppose charter schools. I am not a fan of choice in general. I think, and genuinely believe, that schools have a higher purpose. Schools, at their best, provide a place to build community. They educate all students, giving those young people an equal opportunity to succeed. When schools enter into competition, those things are thrown away. Suddenly schools compete for only the best students. They look for ways to convince poor students to leave. In short, they want to win, and try to use any and all methods to do so. Students who need good schools the most, get them the least.

So, I need to make a decision; do I support the change wholeheartedly, or do I use my position to oppose this change, on philosophical grounds?

This seems like it should be an easy choice, especially as I am poised to leave my current school at the end of the year, changes notwithstanding. I should roll over and let it happen, choosing the middle path, neither endorsing or attacking, right?

Of course,  I could go out in a Blaze of furious, righteous indignation, torching every bridge I've spent 6 years building, right?

There's no way that I should buy into this new system, right? There's not a circumstance in which I should endorse this radical change, in which I should sell out my values; right?

Well, here's the problem:

I currently work in a school that I helped plan and open. I've spent countless hours making this school one of the top performers in the district, according to all of that deeply flawed test data. I like my co-workers. I adore the students. I want the best for them. If the competition plan is implemented, it seems like my school, (and a little bit, my legacy) will benefit. I think they will thrive like never before. But at what cost?

Reacting negatively makes it seem like I want to protect the status quo. It makes me seem reactionary and archaic. Whenever a teacher drags their feet against educational reform, critics cry that they just want their comfort and wages and to keep turning out a poor product. There is the distinct possibility that that teacher (me in this case) actually does want reform. They're just once bitten, twice shy. (actually, in the case of teachers that have been at this for a while, they're "every year bitten, next year shy"). In fact, I've tangentially written about this before .

And so I suppose these are the questions I need your help to answer, because this isn't the usual reflection on the absurdity of public education, this is a genuine moral quandary. I need your help. I need your advice. What cost to personal philosophy is too high? What benefit needs to exist to justify that cost? How do you weigh concern now versus possible benefit later? How do you weigh benefit now versus possible cost later?

Many of you work in education. Many of you have been or will be faced with similar questions of ethics.  I want to know what you think I should do. Please, share in the comments. Feel free to comment anonymously, if you, like many teachers, live in fear of being terminated or reprimanded for actually voicing an opinion (an entry for another day, I'm afraid.)

Get it? I said  "afraid", and I was talking about fear? Pretty clever, right? In the words of the famous philosopher Ralph Malph, "I've still got it!"

Anyway, once you stop laughing with at me for that pun (and gratuitous Happy Days link), please tell me what you think I should do. I appreciate it.

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