They are right. All of them. We are in the midst of a dismantling of the United States as we have known it for nearly a century, a dismantling sparked by those with less interest in sharing the wealth than in amassing as much as they can for themselves—to hell with the rest of them.
Yes, you’ve heard that all already, heard it all. Yet—don’t scoff—we are in a crisis as grave for our nation as that of December, 1776, when Tom Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” So it is, today, and so it will be. It’s a battle, one that has been going on for decades but one most Americans still haven’t awoken to—or find themselves in thrall to those acting against their own best interest.
RJ Eskow, writing last month for Huffington Post, put it this way:
It seems as if same battle is being fought in every aspect of American society. On one side are the forces of egalitarianism, economic opportunity, and self-determination. On the other is a well-funded and entrenched elite bent on hijacking our media, our political process, and our institutions, for their selfish ends.
True, but a little tepid: It doesn’t simply seem. It is. Nothing in the country has been spared, not even (as Eskow points out) our classrooms.
Not even our university classrooms.
The rise of for-profit universities, the shift to textbook publishers for curriculum development, the increased reliance on contingent faculty, shifts in management style to top-down corporate models, initiatives for standardization that slowly are removing the syllabus from the professor and giving it to the bureaucrat: these, and much more, are signs of a system, undercut from without and with no internal counter-effort, crumbling while too many of us continue our daily tasks as though they can mean something even though the entire supporting edifice turns to ruin.
Yes, there will continue to be excellent colleges and universities—just as there still are excellent schools preparing students for them—but these will only be for the children of the elite and for those other special few the doors will open for. The idea of real education—not simply job training—for everyone is being cast aside.
And we, for the most part, are doing nothing about it.
Less (when the “we” is college professors) even than our counterparts teaching K-12.
Frustration, in public education, is beginning to boil over. Diane Ravitch has become the de facto leader of an as yet inchoate movement to counter the Potemkin village of “reform” that is turning our schools from places of opportunity to sorting houses separating what the elite see as the wheat from the chaff. Mark Naison has founded the “Badass Teachers Association” that is exploding in size and importance, a venue for expressing the frustrations of genuinely good teachers in a milieu no longer allowing them to teach, but only to manage their classrooms.
Even we college professors could become Badass Teachers, but the movement, so far (though Naison himself is a college prof), is dominated by those in the public schools. We need to join in, too. Every year, since I returned to teaching almost a decade ago, I’ve seen student preparedness for college go down. What have we done about it, aside from wringing our hands and complaining?
Joining the AAUP, if you are not already a member, should be a start, but we all need to be doing more than that, more than restricting our activity and thought to what is going on in our colleges and universities. Becoming a Badass Teacher isn’t a bad idea, either—nor is following Ravitch’s blog, the best clearinghouse I know of for information about what is going on in public education.
The time to simply sit around and complain is long past. As Paine goes on to say, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” There’s value in the struggle itself. As teachers, we should know that.