These words by Dylan Thomas have always resonated for me particularly in time of adversity. The current educational environment definitely qualifies as such a time for educators. I have had the privilege during my career in education to serve in either an administrative or teaching capacity at all levels of the public education system (Prek-12). When children enter our system they are full of the light of curiosity and wonder. Each day brings new discoveries and teachers have the opportunity to guide that journey. Slowly, as the years progress, our educational system as currently configured seems to drive out that sense of curiosity and wonder in favor of conformity, accountability and rigor. Teachers along the way struggle to keep students engaged and yet the volume of what they have to cover in a given year works against them.
Creativity and innovation take time. Time to conduct activities necessary to nurture those qualities. Time for teachers to plan those activities required for stimulating and engaging students’ imaginations. Unfortunately, time is something of a premium in today’s schools. Educators struggle to implement and respond to all the initiatives promulgated by the State and Federal government. Professional development days are often dedicated to attempting to insure compliance with mandates rather than being responsive to what teachers feel are the areas important for them to hone their craft and improve instruction in their classroom. Furthermore, when it seems that there just might be some breathing room, and that happens very infrequently these days, we are hit with another mandate to “improve” our schools. Educators are fatigued. There is no other way to describe it. Teachers entered this profession to inspire students to explore the world around them to discover and follow their passions. Watching students shut down at an earlier and earlier age tears at the core of their professionalism.
Now that we are bringing supposed "rigor" down to lower grade levels and many children are beginning to struggle with the material, those same teachers are being attacked for questioning whether it is developmentally appropriate. The guiding force behind this movement accuses them or at the very least implies that they are lazy or soft and don't support a rigorous curriculum. That is far from the truth and I ask you: Who has the professional expertise to make the determination of what constitutes appropriate rigor? Why have teachers largely been left out of this discussion?
The light of creativity and student engagement are the greatest casualties of the education reform movement. Teachers recognize this and express frustration, but their concerns are disregarded or minimized. We will not achieve greatness in our educational system until we break free of the bonds that are driving us towards mediocrity. We have had over a decade of minimal growth under our current reform efforts and yet the response is that we have to increase those same types of mandates. At what point do we realize our error and open the discussion to find an alternative? Some productive middle ground where we hold educators accountable while recognizing their professionalism and work with them to develop a system that functions without being oppressive.
No one ever achieved greatness merely by having someone constantly look over their shoulder. Greatness occurs when remarkable people are inspired to push beyond the ordinary. It occurs when we have time to reflect on our current practices to create curriculum, units and lessons that engage students and ignite their passions. The “stick” approach to education is not getting us the gains we need so it is time to find the carrot. It is time to shift our thinking from focusing on the delivery of content to a focus on the questions that our content is designed to answer. We must develop an educational system where students are inspired to explore, question and push themselves to discover their world. Finally, educators we need to make our voices heard; do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.