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Tuesday
Jul312018

BFTP: Is subversion the only way?

In Rethinking the Library Annual Report II, Jeri Hurd asks a question I've asked myself time and time again:

In a response to my earlier post, Doug Johnson says "The key to a successful report lies ... in its direct correlation to district goals."  He's absolutely right, but for someone faced with putting that document together, it's not all that helpful.  How do you DO that?  What kind of data do you need to gather?

Just as importantly, what if the school's goals aren't yours?  [Empahsis mine] I left a completely wonderful school, partly because my principal and I had completely different visions of what a library should be, and mine didn't involve green lampshades. 

As a professional educator - be it administrator, teacher, technologist, or librarian, a person has three choices when one's organizational goals and values are in conflict with one's personal professional goals and values.

  1. Quit. This is the honorable thing to do in many people's minds. You and the organization aren't simpatico, just leave and find - or found - a new school that fits your world view. Easier said than done, of course. We are often tied to a geographic location. A variety of schools or job openings may not exist in our region. Starting a school is probably more effort and risk than most of us are willing to expend or accept. And then there are all those poor kids one is leaving behind who will suffer from misguided educational policies in your old school ...
  2. Suck it up. Just go along to get along. Practice saying, "I was only following orders." Rationalize that the administrators/politicians/businesses/consultants are much smarter than you so they know what is in the best interest of children despite what your head, heart and experience tell you. Keep paying the mortgage and buying groceries for another 20 years while turning a blind eye to situations that are not good for children. 
  3. Or.... be subversive. Stick around, but do what you can do that keeps within your value system without being openly insubordinate. Having nearly memorized Postman and Weingartner's Teaching As a Subversive Activity back in my college days, I've always viewed subversion not just as a survival technique, but as a moral imperative. Do EVERYTHING you can get away with that is good for kids despite the official program. Sleep well at night. (See also Librarianship as a Subversive Profession)

Let me give you an example. I think high-stakes state tests in reading and math are bad for kids, bad for teachers, bad for public education, and bad for society in general. They are simply a fairly transparent attempt to discredit public schools so (primarily) rich people can use public monies (via vouchers) to fund private education for their children, scew poor kids, keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor, and the middle class confused. 

But my department is in charge of making sure online state testing goes well. And I do my very best to make sure it does, despite the fact I don't think the testing is good for kids.

But I spend a lot more time on these kinds of things:

  • keeping an open and accessible Internet for all kids
  • using the budget to put as much technology in kids hands as possible
  • keeping library programs and collections strong and professional librarians in place
  • encouraging professional development opportunities that stress students using technology to engage in higher order thinking skills, collaboration, and creativity
  • sending articles, blog posts, and other resources about progressive educational practices out to all staff
  • writing and speaking publicly on topics that reflect my own educational values in the hope of persuading decision-makers

In today's atmosphere that seems to value a student's ability to pass a test as the only mark of an "effective school," any librarian who gets a kid to read for pleasure, any technologist who finds an enjoyable tool that teaches a skill, or any teacher who gives students a chance to use their own brains to creatively solve a problem is subversive. 

It may be the subversives who change the world. I hope so.

Of course, this doesn't help much in trying to determine the contents of the library's annual report. Sorry, Jeri.

Let's all sing along with What Did You Learn in School Today by Pikku Myy:

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
I learned that I must pass a test 
To sort the learners from the rest 
That winners win and losers lose 
And TAKS test scores is how they choose 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
It matters what my parents earn 
I'll get better grades with cash to burn 
If I don't speak English I can't be smart 
And no more music and no more art 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
Workbooks fill my empty mind 
So that I won't be left behind 
I'm learning how to play the game 
And all right answers look the same 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
Learning's just a job I do 
From seven thirty til half-past two 
And all my interests have to wait 
'Til I drop out or graduate 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

Original post June 6, 2013

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