To what purpose all this business?

This came across my computer screen this morning:

You definitely haven’t drunk too much coffee. The pendulum has swung so far that I really fear for some of my students. The pressure for perfection is out of control! I’ve already been counseling my students on the need to be gentle with themselves. I have one mom who is getting a tutor for her student, because he is “lost,” with his 96%. And when I told my Spanish 2 classes the other day that I was so proud of them for how they did on their first major unannounced vocab. quiz, they were devestated to learn that the class average was 88%. I thought they were joking with me at first, but they were sincere. I had some kids tearing up and others muttering that their parents were going to kill them. What is wrong with this picture?!

I gave a quick response, encouraging the teachers facing this to collaborate on a book.

The response to that suggestion should be: HA! Who has the time?

Right. But does it then occur to anyone that perhaps that’s what’s behind this drive to fill up kids’ schedules so tightly that they have no time to reflect or question where they are going, what they are learning, what they are doing?

There’s a reason for this. People who are desperate do not have time to question the routine, to question authority, to wonder why things are the way there are, who benefits from the arrangement or any of those other pesky questions that so annoy those who see themselves as being in charge.

It is ironic that so many teachers bewail the 60s as a time of upheaval and excess. What they do not remember or do not know is that it was just that sense of stifling conformity that pushed so many people to be ready for rebellion. It was the cream of society, those students destined for corporate jobs, who rebelled. The one element extant then but missing now was the unrelated Civil Rights Movement. That served as a model for the rebellion of women, of other minorities, of homosexuals, of nuns, and of people in general against the routine pieties of everyday life.

It’s the desecration of those pieties that so wounded what came to be called Middle America, the Moral Majority, Joe Six-Pack, Reagan Democrats, and so on. In reality, much of the thrust of the rebels was toward greater opportunity for everyone, not just privileged college students. But even now the Right paints the rebels as a bunch of privileged Ivy League students who were unpatriotic and had never worked an honest day in their lives. Untrue. But many Americans have swallowed that.

We are not on the edge of a rebellion, but some of the conditions are here. I think we’ll pull out of the economic meltdown without changing the conditions that led to it. The average American does not understand what it means to have China owning over a trillion dollars of our debt. Tom Friedman has a column today in the NYT pointing out the implications and ramifications of that fact. Only the rise in gas prices got Americans’ attention.

So I don’t see a societal revolt coming. The adjustment will take place and slowly our ideals and quality of life will erode and it will go unnoticed by the young unless their teachers make it known to them. What was the name of that 60s book? Teaching as a Subversive Activity? (1969, actually).

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