Monday, April 9, 2012

Soul-Sucking Vortex of Impossibility

I am suffering from massive writer's block, but it's not because I have nothing to write about. It's because what I am writing about, my job, my passion - education - has become a soul-sucking vortex of impossibility.

Mostly it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall in writing about education. I don't see the outrage we need to make change; I don't even see change in slow, steady increments.

I see a few classrooms here and there making strides, 25 students at a time. This is noble but doesn't lead to systemic change (although the kids in those classrooms have no idea how lucky they are).

I see teachers being beat up on daily, and then shrinking into little fetal balls to protect their vital organs, right before they leave the classroom for good.

I hear tons of jabber-jawing about how vital education is, how much we need smart kids, then watch those budgets get gutted.

I see cheating on tests, tests that are ridiculous and don't reflect anything real about a student or the school they are in. I hear one of my third grade tutoring students say she has been throwing up nightly, she is so worried about it. (I told her, in earshot of her parents, that the tests mean nothing. They agreed.)

I read research from the Department of Duh about how important it is to engage students, how they need better spaces to learn, how education isn't preparing kids for either college OR the workforce (unless that workforce is a fastfood window, and even then kids don't need to know how to make change or add).

I am pushing forward anyway, but after a fashion it becomes depressing to be the one consistently sounding the alarm.

Conversely, it also becomes depressing to tell people about all of the things we are doing at HoneyFern and have them "ooh" and "ahhh" and then ask me about grades and tests, as if what we do can't possibly be valuable unless it has a percentage on it. Parents are so institutionalized at this point that they have a hard time shaking the standardized testing mentality, the teach-practice-test cycle.

And yes, for the record, we do take a standardized test, and we are accredited. The difference is that I have no idea what is on the test and haven't spent a particle of energy in test prep or practice.

But I digress.

Today, my pioneer-studying student is making biscuits from a recipe from 1830 and learning how to quilt. She has also written a 10-page research paper on the Victorians and a compare/contrast essay on the 1800s in America and England. Later, she is planting flowers and herbs in her Victorian kitchen garden, and then we will draw and study French. Tomorrow we are going to see Much Ado About Nothing; when we get back, one student is doing a lab about osmosis and diffusion with gummi bears, and the other is starting a plant scavenger hunt.

I can keep my head down and focus on the students I have. This seems to be the way that keeps me most sane. When I look at all we have done and all we have planned, I am amazed and proud and impressed at my little school and its students.

But when I pick my head up and look around at the millions of kids getting shafted daily, I feel the tug on my soul. They have no idea what they are missing, and adults in education are doing their very best to make sure they never realize how brilliant school could be, how brilliant THEY could be.

I don't know how to reconcile these two approaches - blissful focus on what is in front of me or fretting about the masses to distraction. This is why I haven't written. This is why I feel no blog instinct - either way, it's a lose.



  1. I see it too. I could duck my head and concentrate on the kids in my "brick and mortar" school and still do okay reaching out, or I could look up and experience teaching in a whole new way. What bothers me is when I look into the kids' faces when they ask me why we can't focus on this rather than moving on to that. And what about when a student who seems to not "participate" then uses what we have talked about in thier everyday conversation but bombs the TESTS? What do I say? How do I react?
    I am young and still new to teaching. But I see a need and I want to fill it. I don't want to rush it to anything...I have to also think about bills and family, etc. But teaching is my passion and I feel like I am being led to rethink how I teach/where I teach. I would love to talk with you more. I will keep reading your blog while I make some career research/decisions myself. But I just wanted to say I think I could learn alot from what you are doing and I could see myself reaching out in a similiar way to guide kids in their learning. Would you be willing to talk more?

  2. Absolutely. I'd love to know more about what you are doing. Feel free to get in touch via email: