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Our Problem is Obedience

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” -Howard Zinn

The historian Howard Zinn always had a great way with words; simplifying complex issues into a popular language that would connect with anyone reading it. His mantra in the quote above has resonated with me for a long time. However, the longer I teach, the more value I see in his thoughts on obedience within the teaching profession.

For far too long, teachers have obeyed harmful policies and practices that have had a negative impact on our students and education system. For example:

1. We continue to administer standardized exams, even though we know they offer very little value to understanding our students.

2. We stagnate student learning by teaching them how to write standardized exams instead of doing valuable work with students for the real world.

3. We allow the corporate encroachment of the education system with the increased use of technology in the classroom, as well as the corporate nature of our textbooks. I'm not against technology, just questioning the increased corporate relationship with education systems as they try to sell their products.

4. We fail to recognize new alternatives to teaching and obey a system that really has not changed much since the industrial revolution. Why do students need to know certain information at certain grades? Why do we punish failure instead of turning it into a learning opportunity?

5. We view student behaviour through a deficit model. This policy forces teachers to look at students from a 'less than' perspective and usually reduces students self-esteem and self worth to an all-time low when they have to review their own behaviour plans with their teachers, parents, and principals. (I've been through this as a student, it's time we move to a strength based me)

Obviously, the above list is a generalization as there have been great strides in education made by individual teachers across the country and world. But it is time that teachers take back the education system. We should not have politicians who have never stood in front of a class make decisions about what we do in our schools. Our education system should be in the hands of teachers, parents, and students. It is the only way to ensure that we meet the needs of the communities we serve.

Teachers are not merely there to transfer knowledge to students. We have the power to be intellectuals, educators, activists, and change makers. We need to understand that we have collective power to move the education system in the direction that would best serve our students and the world we live in.

We can no longer obey the dictates of policy that harm our students. We can't just say it's 'part of our job and it just has to be done'. We are at a crossroads of where education is heading. With organizations like 'Teach For Canada' and other corporate interest groups getting involved in education there will be suggestions at privatization and more corporate involvement. Let's make sure we keep education in the hands of the public as it should only serve the interest of the people in order to improve the world for all.

So teachers, I'm asking you to start talking to your colleagues about these issues. Start talking about these issues with your students parents and anyone else who will listen. If we understand our collective power it will be easier to say no to the harmful policies that we are forced to administer.

For inspiration, look at teachers like Jesse Hagopian from Garfield High School in the United States who worked with staff and students to boycott standardized testing at their school ( Change is possible, but only if we believe that it can happen. Let's start believing!