Published February 11 by Mr Teachbad
About five years ago I read Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform by David Tyack and Larry Cuban (Harvard, 1995). It’s a great historical overview, written before the Dark Times, and I recommend it.
The thing that still sticks out most for me from that book is their argument that education reform, small– or large-scale, cannot be successful without a great degree of support and compliance from teachers. Ultimately, we are the ones who run this place. We don’t get to decide where we’re going, but we’re flying the plane. You need us.
We wanted to go to Las Vegas, but you’re making us go to your aunt’s wedding in Syracuse. Well, guess what, asshole…we’re not going to either. We’ll tell you we’re going to Syracuse. Oh, yeah…and you’ll believe us. But really we’re just going to fly this thing out of gas over the Andes and one of us is going to end up eating the other one.
Tyack and Cuban were right. If reforms are to work and teachers are to do what the people who decide these things want them to do, teachers have to be on board. If they aren’t happy, they won’t go along and it simply can’t happen without their buy-in. But there is an important unstated assumption in this argument. The assumption seems to be that teachers, for better or worse, will stick around long enough to be able to thwart any changes they don’t like.
What Tyack and Cuban didn’t count on is that teachers might leave or be removed from the profession en masse rather than go along. They hadn’t considered the possibility that any reform effort could possibly be so broad, unpleasant, well-funded or persistent as the one we are seeing now.
The result is that the reforms are changing the demography and character of teaching. The organism of the teaching profession is adapting in a natural selection-y sort of way; changing itself to survive in the changing circumstances of its environment. Teacher satisfaction is sinking like a stone. Teacher turnover is greater and the profession is becoming younger.