Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Discouraged from Dreaming

By Nancy Flanagan — October 18, 2011 2 min read

I spent much of the past week in a dream-like place: a spectacularly beautiful setting in the rain-forested mountains of central Puerto Rico, on the Matrullus river. I was there for IDEA Camp, hosted by the Institute for Democratic Education in America. I was surrounded by hopeful and reflective people, most of whom were as blissed out as I was by the raw beauty and power of the place.

Accommodations were very rustic, which pushed us out of our standard, rational, limited

ways of presenting ourselves to the outside world--and into sharing deeper personal visions of what the world could be. What schools could be. Who we all could be, as change-makers.

As I said, a place to facilitate dreaming.

Having spent 30 years in the classroom, mostly with middle schoolers, I’m about as grounded as they come. I know, from deep personal experience, what fatuous, air-puffed educational crapola sounds like. I know there are kids who won’t let you “save” them, despite your best efforts--and ludicrous rules that can’t be circumvented, not if you want to keep drawing a paycheck. I have ruthlessly and unapologetically compelled 7th grade boys to write “I will not empty my spit valve on another person’s chair” 25 times, for Pete’s sake. I’m no airy fairy.

And I don’t believe that soaring rhetoric solves real problems. Truthfully, I even wonder sometimes if optimism and servant leadership aren’t overrated. But I was changed by something very simple and important that I heard at this gathering. It came from an elementary principal who said that her teachers were discouraged from dreaming, and that this loss was just killing her.

Think about that: Discouraged from dreaming.

We’re rounding up our teachers in metaphorical orange plastic nets and giving them explicit, linear instructions--mandates--on how to standardize their instruction for maximum measurable “results” (a word I have come to loathe). We’ve pushed all students to adopt standardized education-credentialing goals--“college-ready”--even when their own dreams may be far different. Schools, which should be the repository of diversity and aspiration, have shifted to advertising, “blatant marketing and angst,” with winning schools filling their classrooms, and losing schools forced into closing.

Nobody in public education gets to dream any more, to wonder “what if?” or try out alternatives. Our grand visions--personal and collective--have been defined and packaged for us. Educators have had their personal autonomy, mastery and purpose questioned, made fun of--and removed. The time-honored image of “teacher” has been replaced by “educational entrepreneur"--one who can find a way to replicate and fund his own vision, or her own mission.

This ain’t what democracy looks like.

It was heaven to be disconnected from the distressing running feed of education policy and practice for a few days-- to have the chance to dream, unimpeded and nurtured, of what could be. And how we could get there.

Most days, it feels as if the only people who get to have a dream about wonderful schools are those who aren’t actually working in schools. As my friend Roxanna Elden wrote, in a smart blog response at Education Next:

It is disingenuous and unfair to suggest that non-teachers in clean, well-decorated offices with all the copy paper they could ever ask for somehow care more about poor kids than teachers who get up at 5AM and break up hallway fights and work with these kids every day.

Thanks, IDEA, for the space--and thanks to my comrades-in-visioning.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one...

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Larkspur, California
Tamalpais Union High School District
Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read