I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have learned some things from my sad obsession with Mad Men. Don Draper—the man with whom I have a hate > love relationship—says that if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.
A debate about the effectiveness of Teach For America has recently caught my attention as I trek through the final months of the first year of my own experience as member of this organization.
It’s not that I don’t like what’s being said about Teach For America. Frankly, I have some bones to pick with the organization, too. But rather, my problem is that—as usual—we’re not talking about anything that matters.
We have a problem in this country where we like to avoid looking at root causes of things we don’t like. We like Band-Aids, not solutions. Teach For America is one such Band-Aid. And instead of talking about the bigger, harder, more complex issue of how public education is a fraud and a failure, we like to focus on the littler, simpler things in life: organizations or policies that are making grandiose attempts to address the symptoms.
That last word there is the key: symptoms. Needing TFA corps members is a symptom. Low teacher retention rates are a symptom. The real facts and statistics surrounding education in poor and rural areas are symptoms of a much larger, systemic disease in our public education system. Anything that aims to resolve these symptoms is not a panacea. TFA does not claim to be a panacea. If anything, it’s just like DayQuil. It’ll relieve some symptoms if they’re not too bad, but TFA will never solve the “education problem” that plagues our nation.
But TFA does understand one thing that many policymakers fail to recognize admit: the education system has failed in large part because of what structures are in place to preserve the status quo.
We don’t need to talk about the medicines that different organizations prescribe to the education problem. We need to talk about why there is an education problem—the real heart of the reason.
In other words, the conversation needs to change. We need to think more radically because the traditional way of educating has proven to be inept. We need to talk about what we’re teaching, why we’re teaching it, how we’re teaching it, and if we should be teaching the same thing in every institution. We need to refrain from accepting “norms” and ask questions that we’ve been too complacent to ask.
This education system is the very thing that has taught us complacency. We’re taught to nod our heads and write what’s on the board. That’s the “traditional” method of educating. But to put it in “laymen’s” terms, this method sucks. Why do we continue to work with a system that’s been failing the people? When will we demand empowerment by working against a system that represses us?
The conversation needs to change.
Much more on this to come…
I had a conversation with someone the other day about racism in America, because, frankly, if I’m around a person (or group of people) for more than an hour, I will start proselytizing about social justice. It’s what I do.
But the more I do “proselytize,” the more daunting the whole agent-of-social-change thing becomes. I don’t know if it’s because I live in Oklahoma or if the lack of racial diversity in Norman, Oklahoma, where I am currently residing, has anything to do with it, but any mention of White Privilege or systemic racism and I get snide comments, complete apathy, or a roll of the eyes.
Suddenly, because I care about equality and about reversing the systemic socioeconomic stratification of our society, I am a “radical.” That title alone prevents me from being taken seriously at all by some leftwing groups and individuals and by most if not all “moderate” or right of moderate groups and individuals.
Why does my unwavering passion for justice make me a “radical” when the very reason we created this nation was because “all men are created equal” and because a government should protect their “unalienable rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
(I get it that our dear Founding Fathers really weren’t talking about black people or Native Americans when they wrote those words but I think it’s safe to say that if they lived in this day and age, they would be. They were pretty progressive guys.)
The other day in class another incidence occurred whereby my peers surprised me by deeming me a “radical.” We were discussing—off topic, I’ll admit—the purpose of primary and secondary education in America in a small group of about five of us. Education in America is my thing—my obsession, as I’m sure you can tell if you read this blog. Therefore, when one of my peers said that the exclusive purpose of education was to prepare kids for college and/or the labor market, I jumped on him.
No, no, no, I said. The real and primary purpose of education in America is the ideological homogenization of students and the deliberate socioeconomic stratification of society based on class and race.
As soon as the words left my mouth, each of their faces contorted in this look of disgust and fury. They threw their arms up and lashed back:
"You’re a radical!"
"That’s a bit extreme…"
"You should probably leave the country if that’s the way you feel."
I was slightly taken aback at how vehement—and unified—their responses were. We weren’t in a science or math class, where students don’t really study society and therefore probably don’t learn much about it unless they make an extra effort. We were in a political science class that studies religion and the constitution. These people are supposed to have some idea of the way the world, let alone this country, really works.
Why, then, should it come as any kind of shocking surprise that the world isn’t as neat and fair as we’d like it to be? More importantly, why is even a mention of this idea so outlandish and radical that the entire issue was brushed aside as irrelevant and unworthy of discussion altogether?
The lack of a critical attitude toward our society and the apathy so many people have for the injustices they know exist is disheartening, to say the least.
In moments like these, I turn inward—to my roommate next door who does understand or to my boyfriend who does understand—so that I can forget that there are so many people who just don’t understand and don’t care to. But this in itself is detrimental because when I go back to the real world and discuss these issues with everyday people, I’m just unpleasantly surprised and even more frustrated at how backward mainstream mentality is.
Happy Monday, everybody.