Is education in a hemlock moment? What do I mean by a hemlock moment? In Ancient Greece, Socrates, a great thinker, teacher and philosopher, was tried and convicted by his fellow Greeks for inciting rebellion and poisoning children's minds against the city. His penalty: suicide by drinking poison hemlock.
This story is used to warn against the ills of a society that destroys creative and innovative thinking. A great philosopher, one that has spanned the millenniums, killed by his own neighbors for radical and disruptive thoughts against the state.
Where have we seen this before? Too many times to count!
In my opinion, for the past thirty years, and now, in the COVID-19 crisis, educators are in a hemlock moment. American society, and frankly the conservative wing especially, want our profession to drink the hemlock, by telling us we are hurting our very profession. In each other profession, the professionals have established their rules, regulations and practices. Yet somehow, educators have been sidelined in their own profession, and special interest groups are lobbying lawmakers in states, and the nation, to tell educators what and how to do our jobs.
First, we have seen a massive defunding of higher education. This has resulted in less opportunities for Americans to attend college, and exit poverty. Instead, in order to fund educational credentials to enter the teaching force, students must borrow astronomical amounts of money to attend higher education. Sip.
Second, K-12 education has been asked to right the wrongs inherent in an economy where the little person is disadvantaged. Court rulings have gutted worker protection, unions, and environmental safety across the united states. Many states have forbidden teachers from joining unions, or made it so cumbersome that the so called advantages have been nullified. The gerrymandering of voting districts have resulted in entrenched politicians who view public education as "wasteful" and "unnecessary." Instead of holding businesses accountable for mass layoffs, and taxing people who are fortunate enough to have massive profits and wealth, politicians have sent agencies to scare the working class and those in poverty by calling any benefit or any systematic use "laziness" or "fraud." Means testing and poverty for those with disabilities, the lack of tax deductions for childcare, unreimbursed business expenses, and the paltry sums allotted teachers to deduct from their out of pocket expenses is criminal. For example, as a teacher, we can deduct $250 dollars on taxes. In reality, the figure is closer to $745. If you add in commuting expenses, as many teachers cannot afford to live in the districts which they teach, or have , for economic reasons, needed to split the difference with a partner, the number soars into the $2000 range. Before the pandemic, teachers needed the internet at home to complete work outside of school hours, and that can be expensive. On average, a slow internet speed provider is about $50 dollars a month. Conservatively 20% of $50 dollars is 10 dollars, and at 12 months, that is an additional 120.00 per year. From a time factor, teachers spend on the average of 12-16 hours per day on duties that are not part of the scheduled day. OECD data compared teachers across all nations and found that teachers in the US work the third highest number of hours across the OECSD sample nations. Yet pundits will yell that our international test results are in the middle of the pack, and that students are not improving based on our own internal measures. Sip
Third, at the beginning of COVID-19, many people were finally exposed to the amount of labor it takes for someone to teach, and parents were very supportive of teachers, and showed support on social media. A viral social media post stated "I don't know how you all do it!" Now, however, after a year on of quarantine and pandemic induced economic hardships, the truth has emerged: Teachers and schools are seen as necessary child care so that the micro economy of a house hold can function. Parents, politicians, and others are demanding schools re-open, and that teachers and their unions, asking for safety precautions, be ignored and forced back to schools before the vaccination rates and infection rates have flipped. Vocal critics are bashing teachers and their unions for selfish behaviors. I am devastated to hear this. Yet it happened when teachers and their unions advocated for end to gun violence and increased gun controls following the hundreds of gun shootings in the States. From what I vaguely remember, teaching was supposed to be a safe profession.
You only needed to deal with the germs from a cold, or flu, or the asbestos or failed HVAC systems in most older and in much need of repair buildings, or windows that won't open, or fossil fuel heating systems...Attacks, intruders, and physical assaults' were limited to those other professions like police, or military, or prisons', or nursing or mental health crisis centers, or hospitals. or ....oh wait, teachers were attacked! Just not in suburban schools! Sip.
As a society, we really need to ensure education is the foundation, the bedrock. I, for one, will only sip on tea or coffee. I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid, or the hemlock for that matter!
Citation: OECD (2021), Teaching hours (indicator). doi: 10.1787/af23ce9b-en (Accessed on 28 March 2021)
Casey Thomas Jakubowski, PhD is the author of Thinking About Teaching (Edumatch 2020) and the forthcoming A Cog in the Machine (Edumatch) . He has presented internationally, nationally, regionally, and at the state and local level. An expert in rural education, civic education, innovation, and leadership, Casey has taught for over 20 years in rural schools, Carnages Classification 1 research institutions, comprehensive colleges, and community colleges. He served as a school administrator, a state level content and improvement expert, and a number of peer reviewed articles, and appeared on over a dozen podcasts with practitioner focus.
Over 20 years experience in consulting for improvement. Lean and Six Sigma Certified. PhD in Leadership