I had heard of Matt Walsh before, but I really don't know how or why. Perhaps because I am Catholic and he is too. I did not know anything about his blog, nor was I aware of the blog called "The Blaze" until I saw this article of Matt's in my Facebook feed the other day. I have a lot to say about this article, and so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts with Matt and with you, dear readers. Feel free to comment, but please, let's keep it charitable.
Dear Matt Walsh,
I want to talk to you about failure as it relates to educators and our public-school system.
I, too, am critical of the public-school system. I agree with you that kids need to be “saved” from it. I homeschool my own children, so that they do not have to be a part of the system, but I am also an educator and have been for almost thirty years. I have spent time in many different public-school classrooms in two different states in both rural and urban areas, at all levels from elementary school to high school. I have also taught in a state-funded college.
Over the years, witnessing so much brokenness caused me to consider briefly getting into educational leadership. I always dismissed this idea, because I know that adding another degree or title to my name isn’t going to help me change what needs changing. I do have respect for those who go into educational leadership. I think that they, just like teachers today, live a slave’s life, who have had their autonomy, their perceptions, and their actual cognizance seized by the very system that they labor for each day.
Let’s consider that some school systems actually do allow teachers, and principals and other educational leaders to lead and do what they were trained to do. Even then, isn’t the term “educational expert” an oxymoron? I don’t ask this with sarcasm. Let’s think about it: Much like parenting, educating is organic, a constantly flowing and changing activity because there are human people involved.
As a culture, the debates around education rage, and are filled with judgment toward educators, and most of that judgment is coming from those on the outside. Our culture expects too much from educators. We don’t allow them the space to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. The space around education should be kept vulnerable and open to failure because that is where true learning and change takes place.
Imagine that your daughter is in her elementary school classroom and is having trouble understanding division. She is trying her best and just can’t get it in the allotted time frame. She really wants to cry because the rest of the class has finished and she still can’t get it. She doesn’t cry though, because she looked at the clock and she knows that there isn’t enough time left for her to understand. Her teacher, while trying to help her during the allotted 45- minute time frame, apologizes and announces that time is up, they must move on to Reading because it is 1:40. Your daughter feels as if she has failed. Everyone, including the teacher, feels that she has failed because she “didn’t get it” in time. Your daughter swallows her sadness and continues on to Reading class. No more is said about math today. Maybe no more will be said about it tomorrow. This goes on for the entire year, and your daughter learns little. She is judged though. Oh, is she judged! By herself, her peers, her teacher, her principal, and the entire town, because her ineptitude is counted toward the overall grade of the school. Now it’s in the newspapers, and your daughter feels responsible for her school’s grade of “B” or “C.” Your daughter is many kids. Perhaps most kids who are victims of this system right now.
Unfortunately, her teacher isn’t allowed to show her own vulnerability, so why would your daughter be able to? Would she even know how to? Success comes from failure. More “enlightened” adults would probably agree with this, however, are these adults putting this into practice in their own lives, their own workplace, their own parenting? This certainly is not the motto in the public school system right now.
Let’s rewrite this story: Your daughter is having trouble in her elementary school math class today. She just can’t understand division no matter how many ways her teacher demonstrates it. Her peers know that she is struggling and they all pitch in to help try to explain. They know that “failure” is the gateway to learning, because their teacher expects failure. Her teacher has explained that this is what “stretches” the brain, and her students know that this is how learning takes place. In fact, her teacher has told stories of times when she had failed in her schooling and in her career, and how these failures made her a better student and teacher. Your daughter and her peers know that this is true, because they’ve all failed before and have come through it, unscarred and victorious.
Because your daughter’s teacher has revealed herself, and her vulnerabilities to your daughter and her class before, and because they know what kind of person she is, and trust her, your daughter had a breakthrough with division today. Yes, the class lasted twenty minutes longer than the allotted forty-five minutes, and time will be stolen from the Reading class today, but your daughter got it. Isn’t that why you send her to school?
Matt, can you suspend the judgement for just a little bit, and consider that perhaps all the “bad” teachers that you talk about are doing the best they can within the parameters they are given? Can you consider that teachers no longer have “time” to create relationships with their students because of the constant need to keep up with the schedule so that the material that will be on the test can be covered? There is no room or time for failure, or for relationship building in any of this.
For a moment, can you consider the idea of working in a profession which does not allow you to fail? And certainly, those under your charge cannot fail. How does this feel to you? Can you consider the ramifications of this? Can you consider how it might make these professional people feel to work under such conditions?
I venture to say that most of these “bad” teachers that you know are completely disheartened because they are not allowed to engage in their passion anymore the way that they once were. Perhaps this may look like apathy, perhaps this may look like “bad teaching”, or perhaps it simply looks like defeat. These “bad teachers” and the special ones you deem “good” are slugging it out day in and day out trying to do what’s best for kids, while trying to earn a living so that they can do what’s best for their own kids: like feed and clothe them.
I am modifying a quote from Brene’ Brown here: Who we are is a much more accurate predictor about how our students will do than what we know or understand about the science of educating. I hope that all those in the upper levels of educational leadership remember this when they continue to write their policies which are turning educators into robots, and children into the same.