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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Farewell to Academia... The Real Version

I am writing today to inform you of my permanent and final decision to leave the teaching profession once and for all. It goes without mention that this was the most difficult decision I have had to make in my life. After giving it careful consideration, I have decided that this is the best path to follow for my young family and my professional career. There are two reasons why I have come to this decision and in the following paragraphs I hope to explain this in a way you all can understand.

Reason #001 - Teaching Legacy and the Academy

In the last month, I have received electronic correspondence from four former Academy students I had in class during the school years 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008 respectively. I always enjoy reading what my former students are doing, and their words of encouragement and support mean more to me than I could ever express in words. Invariably, these e-mails mentioned how much they appreciated the courses they took with me, how much what they learned at the Academy helped them during their freshman year in college, and how much they miss the Academy. Again, receiving these e-mails over the years (especially during this last year) have always filled my heart joy and beckoned me to a time when my career was at its zenith of success. Since the events of September 2009, I have struggled with the decision to quit the teaching profession. For long months thereafter, I listened to hundreds of recordings of my class discussions and lectures going back to 2003. I cherish the fact that I have so many of them to remember the Academy by. It was while listening to all of these mp3 files (and reading all the e-mails) that I realized I had left behind not only the warmth, love and reverence I had for the Academy, but most importantly, I realized I left my legacy in the halls and corners of that same place I loved so much, for so long. Since late summer, I have been teaching English composition at a local trade college. The courses are exciting and the lessons regarding “life-long learning” I have always tried to teach to my students have not waned or falter. It has been a wonderful experience teaching these courses—indeed, as wonderful as the courses I taught at the Academy! Nevertheless, the memories returned to me of the many “day-dreaming hours” I spent visualizing myself as the “elder scholar” at the Academy, respected by my colleagues and students, pursuing the literary life. This, in combination with the many e-mails from former Academy students helped me realize that I left my teaching legacy at the Academy. I am comfortable with my decision to quit the profession because these facts make me feel fulfilled and realized.

Reason #002 – The “Dehumanization” of Education

This is not a new argument. As a matter of fact, others (in more academically powerful positions than me) have already argued and continue to argue against the national obsession with “21st Century education,” and “global economy,” and “compete with China,” and “private and public partnerships,” and,… well you get my point. Scholars such as Anthony T. Kronman, former dean of Yale University’s Law School, examined this issue in his book “Education’s End: Why Our Universities and Colleges Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.” One only has to read Mark Edmundson’s “Why Read” to realize what we are in the risk of losing. More recently, the article “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School,” by Mark Slouka in Harper’s Magazine exposed a new wave of attacks against the importance of the humanities in the curriculum. Reading and discussing this article by Mark Slouka was one of my last lessons at the Academy. I did, at one point, receive a disciplinary action plan with the warning, “Mr. Rondon will only teach appropriate materials in the classroom.” The past administration of the Academy (and I hear the present one as well) seemed obsessed with educational jargon, most of which I have already listed above. This direct connection with curricula development and “global economy” and “business partnerships” strikes me a mild form of indoctrination. Furthermore, all of these private companies cited by one school district after another as a partner in redesigning the curriculum might be doing more harm than good. I wonder, whether or not these “skills of the future,” to be able to “compete in the global economy” leave any space for the reading of Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, Morrison, Camus and Twain. Is the future really as the comedian George Carlin envisions it?

“There’s a reason why education sucks and there’s a reason why it will never be fixed. It’s never going to get better, don’t look for it. Be happy with what you got…. [because] the big, wealthy business interests make all the decisions…. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people… they are not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. It doesn’t help them at all. It is against their interest…. You know what they want? They want obedient workers! Obedient workers! People who are smart enough to run the machines, and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all of these increasingly [bad] jobs with the lower pay, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it…. It’s a big club… and you ain’t in it.”

Of course I want to believe that Carlin’s stand-up comedy is not a peephole into the future, but I am beginning to realize that many of the things he states above are here today. Is anyone paying attention? It reminds me of what the devil tells his nephew in C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” something to the effect of: “Uncle, people don’t believe in you anymore. Oh nephew, that’s exactly what we want. That way it is easier for us to sneak up on them.”

I am not against math and science in the classroom, as I am not against the capitalist system. What I am against is the excess, both in education and in a consumerist society run completely amok. One only has to examine the Huxleyan warning in “Brave New World” to realize we are living it now—a population (myself included) more mesmerized, more entertained, more somnambulant and less willing to fight back. I am leaving the classroom because I cannot compete. I cannot compete with the slashing and cutting of the humanities electives in a curriculum as a disguised effort to “fit in” more math, science, engineering, etc. courses (the proverbial ‘throwing out the baby with the water’). I cannot compete with administrations obsessed with the economic threat China is beginning to reveal to the world, and how they judge this as a reason to “educate.” I cannot compete with systems of control, lack of instructional freedom and the increasingly disturbing jargon of the education system that means absolutely nothing. I cannot compete with technologies in the classroom that only paint a thin veil over what is already a monstrous fact: no computer in the world can teach a child how to read (or do math) as effectively as a real flesh and bones teacher. Those of you who know my work know of my inclusions of technology in all my courses; you serve as silent witnesses that I am not a Luddite, nor am I arguing for a non-technology classroom. I cannot compete with educational institutions so concerned with the financial bottom line, so obsessed with cutting cost that they “force-retire” people in the high salary brackets and hire young, inexperienced teachers right out of college for less than half what they paid the former. I realize that the economic temperature of this country is reaching critical levels, but who really suffers when schools are being run like businesses: the students.

This final reason IS the REAL reason why I am leaving the teaching profession, and find myself incompatible with the classroom. Of course, I will continue to live “the life of the mind;” I could never abandon that aspect of my life. As I have throughout my life as a teacher, I will continue to read, write, enjoy art and music, and follow the canon of humanist study.

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