Can Teachers Still Change the World?


Teachers change the world, one bubble at a time.

I can’t think of a more serious question right now regarding the current state and future of the teaching profession than the one I’m posing today.

In a society where outside-the-box thinking in the education world is discouraged and people with more money than the U.S. Mint are pulling the strings in the puppet show in which we’re the marionettes moving at their whim, you have to wonder: Can teachers still change the world?

Seems there’s less and less time for those things we came to this profession for. You know, trivial matters like inspiring kids to greatness, helping them discover the wonders of the world, and introducing them to a really sensational book. Or even more trivial things like, oh, I don’t know: learning to think for yourself, questioning authority, and being an active citizen in a democracy.

The process of education is eroding, if it isn’t already gone. That means, of course, that the goal of education is also in jeopardy if not already gone. In their places has settled the misguided, blasphemous reliance on test scores as the number one focus of school. Despite what politicians, supporters, and media – the vast majority of whom, it is always worth remembering, have never taught a day in their lives – would have you believe, yes, school has become about the test, and yes, countless hours of instruction and discovery time are lost because of the harsh punishments waiting for schools that fail to perform. For every photo-op of the chancellor of the country’s largest school system reading to pre-schoolers (which looks oh so fun and ideal), there are countless other cries that by the next year, those same kids should be taking tests.

“Happy fifth birthday, Johnny! Now, I know you wanted Legos, but, little buddy, you know there’s no time for that. So I bought you a book! It’s called Dick and Jane Take Tests!”

Rewinding back to kindergarten in my mind’s eye, I remember: the teacher playing a piano, blocks, a corner for us to play house, musical instruments, and a little bit of reading. Tests? Not so much.

How are we ever going to live up to the examples of our former teachers who helped spark in us all those interests that we still have today (which for me, include: zebras, turtles, the environment, whales, and writing)? How can that be done when everyone in the school is judged by the tests?

Ask me to tell you about the five best projects I had in my public school career, and I can do it with ease. Ask me about what my scores were on a standardized test, or if I remember anything about them other than a class aide checking my bubbles, and I’ll say, “Huh? School wasn’t about that!”

Will my students write their blogs one day reflecting about me by saying, “Mr. Ray was so great. He taught me how to underline the main idea when I read and made me make sure I bubbled really neatly inside the lines”? I sure hope not. What a horrible way to be remembered. It’d be depressing to think I dedicated my life to helping kids be good test takers, a skill that offers no readily apparent application to the real world.

This is the truth as I see it.

We’re no longer wanted to change the world. We’re not meant to inspire. We’re not here to make lives better. We’re wanted to enforce things we don’t believe are good for our students. We’re meant to follow the book and do as we’re told. We’re wanted to raise test scores. So the logic goes, no one who is anyone ever amounted to anything without good test scores (including, I guess, Abraham Lincoln and other bums like him).

This testing fetish brings in the whole issue of our students – like mine and so many others – who will never do well on a test. The major victories they score in school just aren’t good enough for the elitists who think everyone must, can, and should be educated and assessed in the very same way.

Too many tests to take. Too many kids to fall through the cracks. Too many kids to be lost in the shuffle. Too many kids to be ignored, ashamed, and forgotten. Too many books left unread. Too many experiments left undone. Too many instruments left untouched. Too many blocks left unbuilt. Too many potentials never realized. Too many.

So, I really mean it when I ask: Can teachers still change the world?

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