Tuesday, July 13, 2010

They've Already Come for the Teachers. Let's Stop it, Now.

"First, they came for the teachers..."

Most people know that line, and attribute or link it to a 1945 statement/poem by Pastor Martin Niemuller, though I can't find that it's truly part of the same. 

At any rate, it is a statement mostly about intellectualism and the rise of the Nazis in Germany; it is also a testament to how when one group is singled out and attacked, other groups must step in and stop the oppression, lest it happen to them next.

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

But it happened to Socrates, too. It happened to Jesus. People who were afraid of the new ideas these teachers were touting came for them in the worst possible way.

Clay Burell, in his blog, "Beyond School," wrote about precisely this, and very well, too. ("When 'Corrupting the Youth' is Good"): http://beyond-school.org/2008/08/29/critical-thinking/ 

I had the line, "First, they came for the teachers," on my mind last night, as I see (as I have written, and others have noted before me) many parallels between the distrust of academics and intellectuals and the rise of populism and eventual fascism. (Think back to the Nazi party's rise to power.)

But this problem--the repression of free speech, the distrust of the very people hired to teach children how to think for themselves, the finger-pointing at any teacher who dares to ever comment about what it's really like to teach, what s/he has learned while teaching, and how other teachers can become even better teachers themselves--is not just an American problem.

No, this morning I found mention of a teacher in Scotland who also went through hell for daring to Tweet about how every day is more interesting when there are kids with Asperger's in class.  She meant that as a positive; yet, she was attacked for daring to say it because, you know, it's all identifying, and of course a teacher should never, under any circumstances, speak about his or her work in the classroom. Not on the internet, for the love of God.

Never mind that the internet is how we can all connect with each other and learn from each other and become better people. Never mind that part at all, because there is a certain mindset that says with finality, "Just don't ever talk about anything important or interesting; don't let other people know you think and write and like to share ideas." Idea sharing is much too dangerous!

Keep it in a diary, stupid. Don't show the world that you exist. Never use your own name on anything.

You know what? That's what's stupid--that repressed fear of idea sharing, the idea that people should never call any attention to themselves in any forum. Don't even get me started on it...

Similar problems have come up in South Africa, too, and if you click the link below, you will see that even there, academics are touting the weirdnesses that began here, in the U.S., post 9/11.

It's described as the "Talibanization of American education"--and that, sadly, seems pretty accurate.


They've come for the teachers already. But who are "they?" They are the people who want others to remain blind to the truth of the world, blind to the fact of their own power to change the world for the better.

They are the people who want everyone else to be unquestioning minions so they can stay in control.

Trying to de-unionize teachers is just one step. Trying to "fire all the bad teachers" is another. Sure, there must be bad teachers out there somewhere. I had some, I think. But was I one? That's actually funny. 

I have literally piles of letters from students telling me what they thought of my teaching and how they felt about my classes. I won't be a boring egotist and repeat their lines, but the feedback was, shall we say, very good.

That was heartening, and I truly appreciated it (and it always seemed to come just when I thought my burnout had reached the point of no return).

Now, I want to make sure that other teachers don't have to put up with wack-jobs freaking out on them for things they dare to say in class or out of class. 

I want the smartest, boldest, most interesting people on earth to be teachers of our children. Those people have already--in many cases--been scared away from the profession.

So what's next? Stanching the blood flow. Don't let it get any worse. Don't let them come after any more teachers.


  1. Collins, you are on fire. Keep up the good work.

  2. You're kind to say that, but it's true: I feel all fiery today.



  3. You know it has to change at any moment, right? Things can't continue on in this old-fashioned, draconian way. The old-timers who do not understand the new way that the world works (you know, with online presences, social networking and all) will retire and disappear and things will get moving in the right direction. You are a hopeful beacon for the future, and you are brave!

  4. Ah, semi-comforting words. In another piece I wrote last year I said I felt like Kafka "and I so do not want to feel like Kafka." I wouldn't say I am like either Socrates or Jesus, but at least I have serious empathy for what they were trying to do and what happened as a result.



  5. I don't see good times ahead very soon, but they've been bad before, and have always gotten better. Hang in! And keep talking!

  6. Well, that's true, Carter. It has to get better...at some point. Though it's been bad for quite a while now. I am hoping this is the crisis point and that things pick up quickly from here. Thanks for your kind words.