Education Opinion

Jumping Through Hoops

By Anthony J. Mullen — August 03, 2010 1 min read
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Hershey Park
Hershey, Pennsylvania

The California sea lion lay prostrate on the wet concrete floor. It would not jump through the circular hoop. The animal trainer removed a small herring from a plastic pail and waved it at the pup. Nothing.

“Why doesn’t the sea lion jump through the hoop?” a young boy asked his mother.

“I’m not sure, “she replied. “Maybe he doesn’t feel well.”

The young woman dressed in khaki pants and shirt reminded the crowd that “animals can be funny sometimes.” She quickly moved toward the animal and placed the herring in front of its canine face. After allowing the sea lion a few seconds to savor the fish, she headed back to the opposite side of the hoop. The animal declined to perform for the trainer and was shuffled off back stage. A large adult male then took center stage and walked forward and backward through the hoop. He even waved to the crowd when given a second herring.

I am trying to enjoy a friendly marine animal show but my mind wanders to RTTT. The latest round of states jumping through hoops to perform for the Department of Education is taking place and a nation of school children is waiting to learn which state will receive the coveted herrings. The whole show would be amusing to watch if equitable funding for education was not involved.

The animal trainer returns to the stage to close the show. She is accompanied by two seals and the ham of the show-the adult sea lion. The audience is reminded that seals and sea lions are wild creatures and cautioned not to approach these types of animals in their natural habitats.

Teachers by nature are wild creatures too. And they are not readily adaptable to jumping through hoops. Most teachers would prefer to lay prostrate rather than perform for a new copy machine or set of textbooks, but that does not mean that teachers are docile or not willing to fight for what is right for their students. I wonder if politicians are warned not to approach teachers in their natural habit, the classroom. To paraphrase the sea lion trainer, “teachers can be funny sometimes.”

This grand comedy known as Race to the Top is doing more to widen the gap between have and have not states than any previous piece of educational legislation. We are a nation racing against itself in an arena designed by politicians who enjoy dangling carrots. What a disgrace.

Cheers to the young sea lion shuffled backstage.

The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year 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.