The video making the rounds Thursday on facebook was of a young man who stands up in the middle of his classroom and goes on a little tirade against his teacher, accusing her, essentially, of malpractice, of making no effort to teach, of handing the kids packet after packet, worksheet after worksheet. He implores her to actually teach, to give up the busy-work in favor of something that will really reach her students, something that will “touch their frickin’ hearts”–I think those are his words. Meanwhile, his teacher is heard (and seen very briefly sitting behind her desk) repeatedly asking him to leave the room and telling him that he is wasting her time. When he has had his say, finally, he does leave. There seems to be very little reaction, in support or no, from his classmates. One girl sitting by the door where he makes his final exit appears not to even acknowledge what is happening. The video ends before any reaction from the class as a whole can be recorded. Some words are spoken right before the video ends that are difficult to make out.
I have several issues with this video–not with the video itself, but with the way it is being used on the internet in social network forums to say “something about the state of our educational system.” This video actually says very little about the state of our system. What does it actually speak about? Well, for starters, because the video gives us absolutely no context for the rant, it mostly tells us about how this particular kid feels about this particular classroom. That’s mostly it. And maybe it tells us how this particular teacher handles such a disruption: not very well, poorly, in fact. To draw blanket conclusions about schools in our nation based on this one and a half minute worth of angry student rant is blatant misrepresentation and tom-foolery. It’s not a serious criticism of what it (or the person sharing it on the web) purports to be criticizing.
First of all, the video cannot validate the kid’s criticism of his teacher. It provides no evidence that she is guilty of that which he accuses her. Now, if what this kid says is true, that this is a classroom in which students are handed packet after packet for mostly seat work independent of any real instruction, coaching, or interaction, then his rant and his sense of outrage is totally understandable and his behavior justified and admirable. But again, this is an indictment then of the teacher in this classroom and of the administration that hired her and then allowed her to keep teaching. It’s an indictment of absolutely nothing else.
The publisher of the video, a website that I find often to be inspiring and thoughtful, http://www.upworthy.com, posts this puzzling commentary from contributer Adam Mordecai after the video clip: ”This was not an indictment of his teacher; to me, this was an indictment of the entire teach-to-the-test standardization that has been forced on our teachers and has broken our country’s education system.” Well, amen to that anti-standardization sentiment–but I don’t know, in my personal experience as a high school English teacher for the last 24 years, a single teacher who has bastardized his or her teaching wisdom to this extent because he or she has been forced to “teach-to-the-test.” Additionally, this short video gives us NO indication that these poor classroom practices have anything whatsoever to do with standardized tests and curriculum. And the dangerous implication is that the standardized movement has somehow reduced all of our classrooms to this kind of practice. It’s fundamentally untrue.
The standardized testing movement has not forced teachers to engage in poor classroom practices. It has simply stolen class time away from both teachers and students. Kids and their teachers are giving up the benefits of maybe two weeks of instruction or classroom experience in a testing year in their English classes alone. And when students don’t pass the reading test, for example, they’re asked to take it again, and again, and again, which pulls them out of the classroom for another week of class time for each retest when they could be in a classroom learning about and practicing the skills the reading test is purportedly measuring!
Good teachers, despite the pressures to raise test scores on standardized tests, will continue to do their best work to engage and challenge students. Bad teachers, as they have and always will do if given the freedom to do so, will provide students with packets and worksheets and seat work. Don’t allow video clips like this one to make you believe, first of all, that the kid, no matter how articulate he is (not extremely in this case), is always in the right, but secondly, and more importantly, that this is in any way indicative of the whole.