8/2/11

THE EXPERIENCED TEACHER: The uninvited guest in a youth and money-obsessed nation


I believe you know you are getting older once you start talking about the 'good ole' days'. When I looked over my notes of what I wanted to blog about today, I saw this judgement directed at me and suddenly, I found myself yearning for a simpler time when experience mattered and held weight. I must be getting older for sure.

Experience.
In many cultures, experience is synonymous to knowledge and to wisdom and all things fantastic. Matriarchs and patriarchs were elders who we turned to for advice, they helped us pave our paths, they shaped how we thought, how we lived our lives. In America, experience does not hold the same status or power as these more primitive cultures did. In America, we liberally apply these characteristics of wisdom and knowledge to much younger folks who may not actually possess the best knowledge or the best wisdom out there. In America, we value youth, money and pedigrees and in following youth, money and pedigrees we are weaving ourselves a very tangled web.

Youth.
We value youth in America. All one has to do is look around. We see magazines with celebrities that never, never age, follow recipes from women in perfect pre-pubescent bodies, and we even have a president who is in his 40's. Not only that, but we have record number of school principals and chancellors in their late 20's and early 30's. Somehow we have begun to translate the youth and mainstream beauty as possessing wisdom-like qualities. Why is this? Are we so self-absorbed in our own images and persona that we would rather get stupid advice from a nymph, than good advice from grandma? This is worrying, for it tells me we are living in a society so obsessed with maintaining our collective illusion of youth at all costs, that all true virtues have been tossed overboard.

Money.
We value money in America. There is an awesome song in Spanish that talks about the rich. The song basically says the rich can probably wear torn rags and it would become ' THE fashion'. Living in a wealthier area of DC, I experience what I call, the success 'angst'. It's the deep, ingrained need some parents have, that's heavily projected onto their kids, that says success equals money; money equals success. Look at any major efforts now excising in education and you'll find it's financed by millionaires, not education experts, not educational cornerstones of our country. Millionaires. They have not been voted into office, but with their money they manage to influence educational policies and change the landscape of education for all our children.

Unfortunately I don't see us weaning ourselves from our millionaire-worship anytime soon. There are slew of TV sitcoms for teens set in highly wealthy and unrealistic settings; enough to make our kids salivate at the sight of yachts, fancy cars and fancy nick knacks ten times over. Grown ups too are simply fascinated by what power money can buy. In America, our very value as a human being is directly connected to what's in our bank accounts. With following this strong on the part of the common people, I see millionaires continuing to drive policies and setting the tone for our nation for many years to come.

Experience, therefore, is an uninvited guest in the world of youth and money. Yet, letting go of experience has deep, deep consequences for our nation. TFA (Teach for America), for example, is one small part of the for-profit take over of our public schools. They hire very young people from very selective pedigree colleges, give them a 5-week training and send them to work for 2 years in poverty-stricken schools in the inner cities. They have no experience, are cheap and they don't know enough about the issues to talk back; perfect matrix-like employees. What's worse is that after the two years a lot of them land incredibly high-profile jobs such as an education staffer for a congressman, or chancellors and sit at the very doorway of very important decisions in our children's lives. That is terrifying to me as a parent and it should be terrify to all parents.

The question I ask myself then is why?......why has experience been eradicated from the list of qualities we need in life to becoming successful in our careers, our personal lives? Why do so many of our educational leaders, especially in DC, reflect these new sacred cows of youth and money? Too many of these young leaders who by chance have had enough pedigree (luck) or money (luck) to land them in a place of great, great power have let it get to their heads. And I don't say that lightly. We have leaders, barely wet behind the ears in education, reinventing the wheels of education as if their thoughts, words and actions were gold and full of wisdom; when they are not. They cannot be, they have no experience.

I am not fooled by our young leaders who look good, sound good, but have not done the walk to talk the talk. I need to see your 'battle scars' if you want me to hear what you have to say about teacher evaluations, or merit pay and my child's education. Have you been in a classroom much lately? Have you survived in a high-needs classroom long? Parents, community members and teachers need to start demanding that their leaders have more than just millions of dollars in their pockets, and look sharp. Parents, community leaders and teachers need to start developing better noses for these egoistic, self-centered, money-hungry education reformers who sound great but have very little practical knowledge. Follow the money and there you will find the rats.

Parents in DC, from ALL 4 quadrants need to start demanding that their child's teacher have experience. An experienced teacher has chosen this as their career. An experienced teacher loves children and knows this is her calling. She does not do it for money, for fame, she has chosen to teach because she loves teaching children and enjoy seeing that 'lightbulb go on'. Demand not to be part of a perpetual 2-year experiment with TFA teachers. Demand experience, stability and continuity for your child always.

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