California Standards for the Teaching Profession: Standard Six
6.1 Reflecting on teaching practice and planning professional development
6.2 Establishing professional goals and pursuing opportunities to grow professionally
6.3 Working with communities to improve professional practice
6.4 Working with families to improve professional practice
6.5 Working with colleagues to improve professional practice

“A school has a multifaceted agenda and many constituents to serve...each makes its demands and exacts it price. The classroom is not a place of simple teacher-student interaction—not even when the teacher closes the door. It is a place in which the claims of various interests are negotiated. The classroom is both a symbol and a product of deadly serious cultural bargaining.”
Neil Postman

 The above statement speaks many truths in this day of classrooms overwrought with mixed agendas. Often, as I speak with educators and others in related careers, I hear a similar lament. Classrooms have become a political battlefield for everyone involved, from text manufacturers to the “human capital” supposedly being educated by the conglomeration of interest groups. Teachers and students have become pawns that, though often innocent, are blamed for the long predicted downfall of society, while the guilty interest groups hide from blame in the dark corners beneath their claims of good intentions. The classroom is no longer a “place of simple student-teacher interaction.” The price that we pay for allowing this simplicity to be complicated is the growing inability of teachers to teach students, displayed in the sullied education of America’s youth.

 In Voices From the Inside, Mary Poplin and Joseph Weeres use the words of students, teachers, and school administrators to name what is wrong with schools today (Pack 405-444). The report is filled with honest reports of how schools are performing, both good and bad. Overwhelmingly present, though, is the tone of frustration that students are not being met by their teachers, and that teachers cannot reach their students. Why? Simply because the system will not allow it.

  One teacher stated, “We are born with a desire and will to learn. How do schools, teachers, students, administrators, the system, and the staff destroy learning?” (Pack 429) The focus of education should be the students, but the list of “concerns” stems not to fault in educators or students, but on a society which feels that schoolgrounds should be a catch-all training grounds for skills that that society is failing to model. “In modern society...the family and the church are being replaced by the school as the most important institution for instilling internal values” (Spring 11). How can teachers reach students when they cannot reach through the demands to teach “driver education, preventing alcohol and drug abuse, stopping the spread of AIDS, reducing crime, eliminating poverty, eradicating racism, building cultural tolerance, educating good citizens, decreasing unemployment, increasing national economic growth, saving the environment, and preparing students for global economy” (Spring 3)? This list grows more complex and severe with each passing day. 

 In my limited time around the Xerox machine, that workhorse that seems to make schools run, I have heard quite a few coping strategies for the burden of being called to the kamikaze life of a teacher. These range from simply ignoring the system and focusing on your classroom, a strategy Postman would argue is futile, to fighting the “system” with its own games. What is the best way to create change? Is there a way to create change? I would argue that, as Poplin and Weeres suggest, naming the trouble is the best first defense. Who are we, as educators, fighting against? Or, even more importantly, who are we choosing to fight as our ally?

 Some of the names and faces are clear, but many are hidden. Every party has a defense and a union, so that it is safe to fight their battles (Spring 69). This seems to be only a symptom of the troubles. In our age of law suits, a battle cannot be fought in any other way. On the other hand, this creates positive and negative issues. “The political picture that emerges from one where the union leader must attend to the welfare needs of teachers, protect teachers’ jobs, and play politics with the school administration” (Spring 69). Even the unions have their own agendas, so they in themselves can be the seat of a power struggle.

 How do economic factors play in this battle, and how does that tie into the global economy? Schools are a social reproduction of our world. “Simply defined, social reproduction means that the schools reproduce the social-class structure of society” (Spring 97). The inequalities of schools serves to perpetuate the separation of classes economically, creating the varied levels of workers, “translated into occupational and income opportunities” (Spring 97). Without these levels, the job market would be swamped, and the balance of the system upset. Though this may seem harsh, I doubt that it would seem unimportant to those is currently strong economic positions. 

 Another factor economically is the control held by publishers and other groups that benefit from the purchasing needs of our nation’s schools (Spring 239). I have heard many stories of teachers leaving teaching to go into the much more lucrative business of creating the books teachers use. Here again, the political forces are strong at work. Not only is there money to be made, but those who control what is written in the texts that are the basis of curriculum in schools. Yet, the majority of decisions made regarding text choice are made by persons very loosely connected to the classroom, its needs, or interests. Since no text could possibly appeal to all of the battling parties, the quality of the end product is greatly reduced, thus affecting what is taught in the classroom.

 As all these factors build and interact, it should be of no surprise that the simple act of teaching is becoming so hard to perform. The “bargaining,” as Postman calls it, is placing the further education of America in serious jeopardy.

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