Friday, March 02, 2007

Teachers in a World of "Shock and Awe"

As if teachers don’t get enough blame heaped on them, I’m going to heap some more. Being a teacher myself, I deserve a share of the criticism. It seems that we teachers are completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of our “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” approach to education. We also have a tremendous knack for criticizing our students for not learning things we never teach them, namely causality, critical thinking, and self-reliance. Some mention should be made that whatever negative impact we desperate teachers could be having on today’s youth, it pales in comparison to the “shock and awe” society-at-large, which includes our government, corporate capitalism and its lackey media, and the resulting deterioration of family life. However, it is my contention that teachers have a unique opportunity to provide hope for future generations by standing up to manufactured political “controversies” and discuss head-on the issues that pervade a student’s mind. We must demonstrate a willingness to confront society’s hypocrisies, social injustice, and global crises instead of perpetuating America’s hopeless delusions of exceptionality, success through bootstrap discipline, and our divine blessing.

“Shock” is exactly how I felt when I heard the news that at my high school several kids premeditated an attack of another kid in order to capture it on their cell phone video cameras. The goal was to upload it onto the Internet. The attacked kid went into convulsions and was hospitalized. “Shock” rules the day in an increasingly irreverent and impulsive society. However, the responses and reactions I heard teachers making were equally dismaying. Here is where the hypocrisy of educators begins.

We act shocked and surprised that our youth are acting out and impulsive yet my fellow teachers vapor locked when I asked them to look at the society of “shock and awe,” right down to the language chosen by our leaders to carry out a murderous rampage on innocent lives. Our act in Baghdad was an utter act of irreverence for human life and we titled it “shock and awe.” Shock jock radio and shock jock TV (Jackass) are stepping up their campaigns to shock, including a recent on-air death of a mother trying to win her son a Nintendo by drinking two gallons of water without urinating. She died from drowning her own tissue. (Radio station employees got fired, young child lost mother). One upping and shocking is rapidly devolving the most basic levels of common sense. What could this be saying about the subconscious thinking of our decadent society? Nihilism? Zero sum?...Or are we desperate to wake up from our “idiocracy”?

Enter the teacher. We have an opportunity to teach accountability by modeling it before we demand it from our students. If I was in a student’s shoes, I’d wonder what the fuck kind of hypocrite my teacher was for asking me to act more responsibly and to hold myself accountable when all around me I see the adults in society failing to hold their government accountable for crimes against humanity, and human rights violations. As a student I’d be outraged that a teacher demanded from me accountability when in textbook Orwellian fashion I perpetuated obvious lies for the sake of ideology. A psychological study needs to be done on teens in this country that aimed at assessing the anger festering in our youth on a latent/subconscious level as they must clearly know they are being handed off a much more fucked up world environmentally and geopolitically than we were given.

A common complaint among my colleagues is that “kids today don’t get causality.” As if irony knew no limits, these teachers don’t know why! Just to be snarky and smug, I sometimes ask them why they think that is. Sad to say the usual responses deflect blame from our dear old profession. So I say again, “modeling for students what we expect them to learn might yield fruit.” Besides that we can do a revolutionary thing: we can teach it! That’s right, we can teach causality. I’m pretty sure the kids get that straightforward concepts of causality they learned in science class, but they rarely see it applied by their teachers, let alone the rest of society.

In fact, I asked my students why it was we (our media, educators, government, et. al.) don’t ever seem to discuss the causes of a massive immigration problem, but instead deliberately choose to study and cover the effects down to the very last detail. I am proud to say one of my students was quick to reply, “because we won’t like what we see when we look in the mirror!”

Even if we think kids aren’t listening they are. It’s just they are good at tuning out the bullshit. When a teacher decides to be honest and stop presenting the world as a clean, linear, desexed Elysian paradise for the disciplined few, and instead models how a committed individual should be denouncing hypocrisy, social injustices, and resisting illegitimate authority without utopian illusions, that is when students may start to truly listen. However, for many school is already a lost cause and surviving it is a major struggle. Needless to say, teachers are in a unique position to model accountability beyond faux democratic processes such as voting. Teachers could get their asses organized and pressure the institutions that undervalue education, rather than modeling excuse-making. It’s no wonder students feel powerless and hopeless. Where in society do they see it modeled?


Aprilloper said...

I agree with this 100% and I am sure my children would agree with this too, since two are high-school drop outs with GED's and the one that "made it" and is now attending university had a real eye-opener this summer regarding education.

My oldest son visited Venezuela last summer and the one thing that really amazed him and he still talks about is the dedication towards getting an education which he saw there.

He was surprised to learn that education is not a state mandated obligation which one must endure in order to be allowed to participate in society. But rather a gift to ones' self and a privilege many have no opportunity to enjoy.

I think that this "shock and awe" he experienced had a great deal to do with the points you are making here. In his schools critical thinking or questioning of American Myths, was not ALLOWED. I think to some degree this is where my eldest and youngest got reputations with teachers as being "trouble makers". The other issue they had was stupid authoritarian rules, like no hats, no talking in the halls, and other such baloney.

The final straw for my youngest son (skateboarder) was when he had to take a class with his older brother (honor roll) and the teacher didn't even know the youngest was one of his student for nearly eight weeks. But the teacher was on a first name basis with the oldest. Also the youngest got to witness just how much the oldest got away with, when he would have been threatened with suspension for the same thing.

The hardest part for me as a parent was always trying to explain WHY the system wasn't fair. The best I could ever come up with is, "It just isn't". The very worst thing I ever did was when I told the youngest that in order to get through school he may have to think of it like the "Old South under Jim Crow and he was African-American." That is a sad thing to tell your child when they just want to feel important, valued and valuable.

Six weeks later he dropped out, he couldn't and wouldn't bend to the demands of the system. I was actually relieved, that he wouldn't have to deal with the daily trauma of the public school system anymore.

However I would have preferred that they had a high school education, like my husband and I both have. I don't see how I could have made that happen with out causing them serious trauma, by basically doing what the system was trying to do, break their wills.

I am very proud of all of my children, they each have their own strengths and weakness, all different and all good hearted and all caring in their own way. Each is currently traveling their own unique path into the future as strong-willed, self-determining young adults with a maturity that exceeds many in their age group.

LeftyHenry said...

very interesting post.

troutsky said...

My kids went totally different ways after graduation,one dyed her hair blackand got huge tatoos,joined the grunge scene in seattle and shot heroin. The other totally embraced consumerist culture, looks, clothes, money, fame etc and so moved to LA to be a totally phony star/ model.(They both worked for a while as strippers and theives). Of course that didnt work out and first she tried joining the military (didn't work out)so she ended up dealing meth with gangs in the barrio.Both have straightened out their lives subsequently.

My youngest was a straight A student and excelled at sports and dance and ended up professionally dancing, dating a law student, no drugs or even drinking.

There was some variation in parenting but for the most part they went through similar schooling, teachers, culture etc..

The oldest two rebelled against my values by rejecting political forms of dissent or embracing phoniness and "shock" as an art form but since I came from a counter-culture experience myself I had trouble criticizing rebellion as such.I was just mystified at the forms it took.My youngest just rebelled against rebellion (the negation of the negation?)

As a warrior culture which places a premium on violent expression and prowess we cannot be surprised at anti-intellectualism and new forms of rage and nihilism but the 'culture" is a facade, a shaky edifice which we can help expose and shatter. That was an interesting handout ,by the way, on soccer and it's extremists.Adorno is difficult but fantastic in this regard.

Renegade Eye said...

The analogy to what you are saying about shock and awe, is the language of opposition after the Gulf war, to video games. The line running through everything is impersonal killing without remorse.

GraemeAnfinson said...

I am in agreement as well. It reminds me of the Columbine school shootings. At the same time Bill Clinton was bombing Iraq, he condemns the student shootings. seems rather hypocritical.

troutsky said...

Wow, we just watched Full Metal Jacket for first time last night,talk about creating killers!

How are young people supposed to become adults? There is no rite of passage, nothing sacred about becoming.