Socrates. John Dewey. Maria Montessori. Jaime Escalante. Christa McAuliffe. Annie Sullivan. Even by the most stringent application of the Danielson rubric, these folks are examples of highly effective teachers. What would they say to high stakes standardized testing, APPR, Race to the Top?
Fade in on the scene: A stark corridor outside the closed door of the governor’s office. Fine mahogany door frame, frosted glass on the door, the governor’s name spelled out in three inch gold letters. The characters are seated on uncomfortable institutional folding chairs waiting to speak with the governor regarding his educational policy.
John Dewey: Everyone knows that children will excel when school is experiential. Great Caesars’ Ghost, man, people are assessing kids with a number 2 lead pencil? To what end?
Albert Shanker (excitedly, spitting a bit as he speaks): To tear the heart out of the teachers, that’s what end! It’s all about breaking the bonds of union solidarity. I tell you, once teachers are assigned numerical scores, brotherhood will jump right out the third floor window of Roosevelt High School. Defenestration. When that happens, people, it’s all over.
Jaime Escalante (sporting a a backward facing beret): It gets worse, Jack-O. When demographics “prove” that minority kids are destined to fail, some number two lead pencil pushing jerk in the state house or white house will say they cheated because everyone knows minority kids can’t learn calculus.
Dewey: Surely you jest!
Socrates (adjusting his toga, standing): Say what you want, but teachers are used to being whipping boys for what ails society. When things go bad, it’s always the instructor’s fault. Look what the Greeks did to me! But if I may, how will students learn to think if all they are doing is coloring in spherical dots arranged in groups of four? Moreover, how will teachers know what they have learned? Likewise, won’t this tempt teachers to tailor instruction simply to meet the demands of the test?
Shanker: Hey, you with all the questions, Socrates, listen for a minute, will ya? None of this is about learning. Not really.
Dewey: Not about learning? Nonsense. Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
Socrates: The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing. Just sayin’. (He sits.)
Shanker: You are all missing the point here, people. This about vilifying teachers. It’s about punishing teachers for making a living wage. It’s about proving we are doing what everyone now believes he can do better than we can. It is about destroying one of the only powerful unions left in this country! There is nothing in any of this about learning or kids for that matter.
James Carville (peeking around the corner for an instant): It’s about the economy, stupid! (He disappears.)
Annie Sullivan (adjusting spectacles): But I have questions, too. What about the interpersonal nature of the student teacher relationship? Would anyone deny that the relationship I worked to develop with Helen Keller was an organic element of our instructional success? Is there any way to give teachers credit for this?
Maria Montessori (with a trace of an Italian accent): Please, someone, tell me how this system of assessing children and evaluating teachers will improve education, especially the education of the most fragile children with disabilities. I would like to know more, such as how choice and freedom of movement and self discipline will be part of this instruction. I have always believed that the ultimate goal of education is independence and I would so like to see how this progressive means of student assessment and teacher evaluation will achieve that end.
Annie Sullivan: Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.
Shanker: Those days are gone, Annie. Now it’s every man for himself.
Jaime (bitterly): Yes, dream on, sweet lady. Leave no children behind, unless they are minority kids.
Annie Sullivan (sadly): Or deaf and blind kids.
Montessori: Or disabled kids.
Christa McAuliffe: To think I used to really believe that we touch the future because we teach. People used to like us. Teachers were respected.
Socrates: You think so, huh?
(The door opens and there is a collective sigh of relief among the waiting educators. The governor appears, nattily dressed in an Italian suit. He conspicuously adjusts his silk tie and clears his throat. He stands waiting as if there should be some type of acknowledgment of his presence. When no such gesture is forthcoming he addresses the group.)
Governor: Sorry that you all have been waiting so long, but I am afraid I am off to a press conference now followed by a fund raiser.
Dewey: But what about the children?
Shanker: What about the teachers?
Governor: No time for them right now. I have a state to run and people to pander to. See ya!