Donald Kagan, a Yale professor, began his Introduction to Greek History class by summoning students from their amphitheater seating to the front of the room. He told them to bring their pens and notebooks. He divided them into two groups facing each other across the expanse of the ‘killing ground’. He directed them “into an improvised phalanx of Greek warriors, with notebooks for shields and pens for spears (xvii).” * Then they ‘fought’, learning with their bodies this first lesson of the semester. I wish I had been there. I wish I had thought of that to use in my own classes. How thrilling to have been in that room, knowing that this first day was the promise and therefore only the prelude to months of charged, rousing teaching and learning.
When those who aligned education with endless standardized testing, the politicians (from both parties) and the technocrats, PhD’s who wouldn’t even know how to get a rowdy high school class under control, think upon their handiwork, I hope they tell themselves at least this one truth – at some point a teacher figuratively grabbed their jaws, shook them, said, “Look!”, and made them fall in love with a book, a creature, an equation, a battle, a poem, an experiment, an elegant new language. One teacher did this. Not a Borg-creation teaching automatically to a test. Then their lives flowered with the addition of the essential virtue of all education, curiosity. I have become convinced that good teaching is all about persuading kids to discover their own curiosity. The curious human being never stops learning.
Teachers and Principals are caught in a trap – the state demands good test results. The state says imperiously forget the time stolen from class to teach to the test, ignore the debilitating effect on kids of making learning the equivalent of straining dust through a filter, pay no heed to their goal of transforming teachers’ passion into bits of zeroes and ones, the better to more efficiently ram it into the electrical conduits the technocrats would like to attach to kids’ heads.
Teachers and principals cannot afford a direct revolt. The forces of official idiocy are too powerful. Their careers would be at risk. Their livelihoods could be torn from them; martyrdom rarely rewards the families of the martyred. They may, however, think and act subversively; so, to be direct, o please consider this — one day a week, close your door, disconnect the wires, refuse assimilation into the hive, create a cascade of wonderful things — show kids how Caliban might walk, how a spider sees the world, how Hannibal constructed a double envelopment at Cannae, what galactic star fields look like up close, how the divine spark shows itself in the human voice, in dance, in joyful chaos, why this poem is truthful and beautiful. Let them see your passion. Let them see your excitement. Make yourself vulnerable. Disconnect the sensors. Teach away from all tests. Resistance is essential.
Maybe all good revolutions must begin in love and laughter.
*Lords of the Sea by John R. Hale