Do we dare stand up for character and values anymore?

Posted: July 13, 2012 in From Student to Teacher

Do we dare stand up for character and morals anymore?

Michael Douglas in “American President”, courtesy of

Perhaps I am naive.  I know it’s “just” a movie.  But we are a society consumed with visual crack.  Don’t we all need something to believe in?  Aren’t the thousands of churches in this country a testament to that?

I love “American President.”  As a matter of fact, I watch it every time I see it on the television, even if that means staying up until 2:00 a.m.  No, I don’t want to DVR it.  I get an indescribable thrill when I see that it will be featured and I ingest it voraciously every time.  Sure there’s the romance in the movie.  Every warm-blooded female loves a good romantic story.  However, it’s so much more than that.

This movie reinforces the sublime and extinct philosophy of standing up for what’s right.  I’ve been searching for the right word or phrase to call this.  Integrity? Determination?  No, it’s more than that.  Michael Douglas has always had an innate talent for believability.  He almost makes me yearn to see his name on the next presidential ballot.

Okay, I just slapped myself and it has brought me back to reality.

I entered into the education arena with tremendous plans to move mountains.  Armed with research, years of mothering skills, and enough adversity in my own life to emphathize with even the most jaded teenager, I briskly walked into the classroom.  I just knew that all my students would come to love Shakespeare and Orwell as much as I did.  I knew that Elie Wiesel’s Night would move them to tears just as it did me twenty years prior.  I was even more certain that every colleague and administrator valued the same and would honor instructional time and rigor and expectations which would blend together to harmoniously produce educated children, students who could think for themselves.

Boy was I wrong.  As it turns out, education is no longer about actually educating.  No, despite the inspirational opening day speeches by administration, the slide shows, the videos from Harry Wong, the PTA snacks at pre-planning faculty meetings, education has slipped from being priority number one in so many public schools.   Here’s a rough sketch of what the priorities look like in so many schools today:

Priority #1                         Making as much money and doing as little as possible

Priority #2                         Setting up the school to look like we know what we’re doing.

Priority #3                         Fighting to get the most well-behaved students, a.k.a. “honors students”

Priority #4                         Creating “enough” of a curriculum and lesson plans to keep the district/state happy.

Priority #5                         Moving up the ladder to the highest paying and most powerful positions

Priority #6                         Focusing on additional degrees to increase salary

Priority #7                         Educating the three students who actually want to learn

There are many amazing teachers in the education system today who would completely disagree with this post.  But those same teachers, if they were to read this, would be able to identify at least 30 colleagues in current and past positions who they know, that this applies to wholeheartedly.

It is a degenerative disease and it has been gradually infecting public schools for decades.  It is unfortunate that it lumps all teachers into the abyss of selfish apathy, but that’s the way America operates, at least when it comes to education.

I fought for years to be able to TEACH. Not teach towards a standardized test.  But just teach.  I love encouraging discussion, presenting a different theory, watching dendrites light up as students embrace it, argue for or against it, and then pass it on to their neighbors.

And I’ve trudged uphill, dodging bureaucracy, excessive testing, ambitious teachers and administrators, and students fixated on worksheets equating to A’s or fixated on their cellphones.  I’m tired.

So every now and then, when “American President” is on, I curl up with a glass of milk and remember what it felt like to be unafraid to stand up for what’s right, stand up for America, and demand to actually teach.


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