Wrong man for the job


(Note: first-time arrivers who come via a blue envelope are invited to start their journey here.)


If the stars now aligned remain aligned long, my life may be about to make a major turn.

My classes at Bedrock High actually went quite well today. Through some series of miracles I successfully wrangled groups of 30+ sophomores for 90-minute stretches. My career thoughts are not initiated by my well understood inadequacies. My thoughts are deeper and come to the root of What Is a High School Education?

I am listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on cd in my car as I have been driving to and from work. Today the character Phaedrus has reached a realization:

    The Church of Reason [the university], like all institutions of the System, is based not on individual strength but upon individual weakness. What's really demanded in the Church of Reason is not ability, but inability. Then you are considered teachable. A truly able person is always a threat.

And I realized it is true.

I have come up with the following statements which I feel reflect what should be true:

    What is the purpose of a university?


    No! No! No! No! No!


    Closer, but no.

    The purpose of the university is the pursuit of truth.

    The pursuit

    of truth.

    All people at the university, old and new, instructor and student, are alike in their pursuit of truth.

    For that is the purpose of the university.

Not so at the high school.

Last week in my waste-of-time class, we discussed that college requires abstract, original thought--which high school's requirements of rote memorization and regurgitation of facts fails to prepare them for.

I desire to teach high school students to think. That is my goal. I admit I'm not yet very good at it but believe I could become good at it.

Tonight in my waste-of-time class, we discussed Problems that teachers have to deal with (eg, religion, sexual harassment, abuse, etc). The possibility of a student bringing up the Scopes trial or creationism or whatever came up. The professor said to express no opinion and refuse to discuss the issue with students.

I countered that what the students needed was instruction in differing epistimologies so that they can see how one epistemology fits in with a school environment while another may not--and that one epistemology does not threaten another. I was told that in no circumstance should I ever do that, that I would be opening a can of worms and that angry parents would be at my throats in no time.

For teaching epistemology?!?! For teaching kids how to think?!?!

What am I doing here? Why should I teach if I can't teach thinking? What good are facts without a mind to process them?

Am I about to get in trouble because today I used a New Testament example to explain a vocabulary term? Because we listened to a Simon & Garfunkel song about suicide?

I believe in being open and forthright with kids. If they ask me a question, they will get a straight answer. Sometimes even in words they don't expect a teacher to use. (And this from the guy with a notorious unwillingness to swear or get drunk.) Does that mean I shouldn't be teaching high school students?

I think the very question is ridiculous.

High school students deserve the right to be spoken to straightly and to be respected as peers and to think. If I don't give them those three things, I cannot consider myself a success.

And if being a successful teacher by my standards means my career is in jeopardy, then what am I supposed to do? Must a be I failure to succeed?


Anyway, tonight in my waste-of-time class I got a paper back with the following portion highlighted. Once again, I thought I was being too smartalecky obnoxious for my own good and ended up being rewarded for it. Do you think this belongs in a serious paper?

    Every child who has the right to study flute should be required to study flute. Every child who has the right to study piccolo should be required to study piccolo. Every child who has the right to study percussion should be required to study percussion. Every child who has the right to study drums should be required to study drums. Every child who has the right to study high hat should be required to study high hat. Where do we stop? After all, must every child study high hat just because he has the right to? What will our then ultra-virtuous society do with the overabundance of high hat players it will be producing?

Gotta love the high hat....


  1. You need to stay a teacher, and you need to teach all the other teachers to be like you.

    Anyone who is brave enough to tackle Richard Corey with 14 year olds, well, thank-you.

  2. So many people don't understand the concept of respect. That you are willing to treat the High-Schoolers as peers who are expected to think for themselves, shows that you respect them and care about their futures.

    Keep fighting to change the system from the inside. I had several teachers like you and they were the ones who taught me the most. Or should I say that they are the ones who helped me learn the most by trusting that I could do it.

  3. I will take your paragraph to the Legislature with me, because it's brilliant. It won't do any good, but I'll feel better. And it's worth a try.

  4. We need more teachers like you and less bureaucratic nonsense in our schools. That last argument is almost as bad as the argument that, if English is not ever chosen as our "official" language than every teacher will be forced to learn 10,000 new languages in order to keep their jobs... garbage, all of it.

  5. .

    The problem with me is that I seem to have all the pieces of a good teacher, but when assembled, the puzzle doesn't look quite right....

    Of course, pieces have their use as well. Take mine and make use of them as you can.