A Teacher’s Manifesto by Dave Butts

I am lamenting the loss of diverse thought and the market place of free thought that once was the School District where I teach. About 15 years ago I was a 5th grade teacher. Most of us in the building belonged to one professional organization or another; PDK, ASCD etc. A common practice was for someone in the building to find a journal article espousing a particular slant on a current topic, e.g. whole language vs. phonics, and make several copies to be placed in the boxes of the other staff. It was great fun! If you disagreed you would find an equally compelling if differing article and in turn place a copy in every box. It caused one to THINK about what one held to as “educational gospel.” If nothing else it caused one to “formulate before you postulate.” Sadly, I fear that these days are gone for now. What I see now is intolerance toward teachers who might express a differing view from the administration/school board particularly with respect to standardized tests, discipline practices, pedagogy, etc. Not only is divergent thought discouraged now it is rather vilified. People have been told that if they “can’t buy in” they should “go to another building.” This seems all very remarkable to me in light of the fact that not too many years ago we believed that one of our primary tasks was to teach students to think and that in turn those thoughts and opinions had validity.

What has brought this to the forefront of my mind is the fact that one of my favorite journals, Phi Delta Kappan, has had numerous articles equating standardized testing with child abuse. Admittedly, much of this information is anecdotal. In a Kappan article by Steven L. Stausss, MD (Feb. 2003) titled “Challenging the NICHD Reading Research Agenda”, Dr. Strauss states “The behavior of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with regard to the production and dissemination of the report of its National Reading Panel is nothing short of scandalous…the! chief element of the scandal is the falsification of the panel’s findings.” Yet, this report is the basis from which the CORE reading program was developed.

There was a time in this school district when teachers were a substantive part of the process of curriculum development and adoption, through the use of curricula area committees. This is not the case now. In my opinion, teachers are no longer viewed as practitioners/researchers/developers. We are now viewed as team players or non team players. Those who take the play from the coach and “run it” versus quarterbacks who are trusted to “call their own plays.” It seems to me that this is not an insignificant shift in philosophy. And the outcome I fear has been the continual whittling away of staff morale and worse yet making school so blasted boring for students that only the most compliant will “jump through the hoops.” Come to think of it maybe compliant is what the desired response is of students AND teachers.

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