Saturday, April 12, 2008

major decision

I have an interesting opportunity. And a decision to make.

I've been asked to teach a class at the local university next fall. I'm going to leave out the details, because it's not completely definite yet, but it seems very likely that I will be teaching a very juicy course to Master's level pre-service teachers next semester. For the uninitiated, this means that I'll be teaching a small class of folks whose undergraduate degrees are mostly in the liberal arts, who have decided to become teachers.

I've also been asked to seriously consider doing an EdD. This is Education's version of a PhD, and it would mean that I would eventually be qualified to teach the next generation of public school teachers. It may not be obvious to everyone reading this post, so I will explicitly state that if I were to become a part of that system, I would spend the rest of my working life fighting hard to train the kinds of teachers who will work to create schools that meet children's needs better than they currently do. I am thinking of this work as a kind of human-rights activism.

I want to work to create schools where children's intellectual integrity is respected. This would be possible where the authority in the classroom rests in its proper place: with the teachers and children, rather than with an outside authority like a prescribed curriculum, the State, a test, or legislation like NCLB. I want to train teachers who can be flexible and creative, and use their senses and their mental abilities to really look at and respond to the children they teach.

This is the only battle, political, environmental, or otherwise, that I have any interest in fighting. This is one of the few things that could tempt me out of my current state of relative withdrawal from the world.

Here are my three quandaries:

To what degree would choosing this be taking some version of 'a good life' away from my own children? In other words, if by choosing the path of working to try to ensure a more humane schooling experience for children in public school, I would be eliminating the humanity from my own children's lives, it seems wrong-headed. Is it possible to keep my children at home as I pursue a doctorate? Clearly, I would need some outside help.

I believe this is mostly a losing battle. I believe that public school policy is not driven by what's best for the children, but rather by politics, an anti-intellectual and fear-based emotionality, and a failure of imagination caused when people believe that the only way to school is the way they were schooled. Can I do any good by fighting a losing battle? Can I make things better?

If what I really want is to make public schools better, doesn't it make more sense, as a certified and experienced teacher, for me to go into the public system myself? In other words, rather than sit in an ivory tower and tell other people how to do this very difficult work, shouldn't I just do it myself? At least then I would know that some children are getting a fair shake, at least as far as possible in the current grades-driven, test-crazed political climate. Of course, this would guarantee that I couldn't keep my kids home, so that pretty much makes it out of the question at the moment. However, eventually my children won't need to be home anymore, and at that point I could certainly get a teaching job and become an agent for change within a school.

Please discuss, either by email or in the comments. All perspectives welcome.


Maria said...

Wow. I don't have any major insights or perspectives. But I can see the quandry. For me, the top two reasons you mentioned: your kids and the losing battle...but let's call it a loosing war. If you really believe it's a loosing war, then why sacrifice your children to that? On the other hand, many have fought loosing wars before and made a HUGE difference in others' lives by winning the battle, KWIM? Even if the war is lost, you can do some good, here. Encourage future teachers to think and act differently. I agree the war is gonna be lost but maybe you can win some battles? But the cost to your family is to be considered. On the other hand, kids benefit in a huge way from seeing their parents take hold of a passion and pursue it. Could you pursue this passion in a few years? Does it have to be now?

Your third point.I disagree that you should enter the teaching fray. I think that would give you a huge amount of frustration as you deal with the politics of the system. Your hands would be tied a majority of the time. In the bigger scope, from your "ivory tower" you have a chance to influence not only adults of the teaching profession but also the kids they impact. You may not see the gratification of immediate results, but you would be impacting a larger group. The impact would have a domino effect.

Those are my quick, inarticulate thoughts on reading your post. Realize, of course, it's only opinion and I don't really know you or your situation intimately. It seems to me you are examining this situation in every light possible. I think it's a great opportunity and a passion worth pursuing at some point, even if not in the near future.

shaun said...

OK a few thoughts, but only since you asked:

1. There's a lot of "ought" in what you're writing. I'd say it's at least as important to think about what your gifts really are -- some people are great on the battlefield, some people are great in the strategy meeting. Everyone has ideas about which type of skills are "more valuable," but the question is, which skills do you have (or feel moved to develop right now)?

2. Again on the "ought" tip -- do you feel like you are copping out on life by not being involved in public education in some way right now? As in, do you have some guilt about "not contributing and just being at home"? I know lots of women who do feel that way, even those who know intellectually that it isn't true.

3. There are all kind of creative ways to make homeschooling work, so if you choose to pursue an EdD right now, I think it's possible. That said, some of our homeschool choices are made for us by the fact that I work a fair amount. I've come to accept this, though I do have some "grass is greener" moments. We have pretty scheduled lives, because that's the only way to make it work. That and spending a lot of money on childcare! But obviously we think it's worth it.

4. Waiting is often a good thing. You have a great class to teach, and you feel good about doing it, so go with that. You could let the rest sit and see what happens. You could see how you like teaching teachers. You could see how homeschooling goes for another six months. My husband believes that if you sit and wait things will often sift themselves out and the answer will become clear. It is good that we are married, as this is *not* my approach to decision making.

elsie deluxe said...

Maria, I think you actually seem to know me pretty well. At least, your third point turns out to be exactly what I want to hear.

Shaun, I think you're right that there are a lot of 'shoulds' here. Teaching is, for me, the one thing that I know I do very well, the arena in which my gifts are most visible and usable. Somehow this translates (for me) into a sort of old-fashioned responsibility. I do feel that it's a waste for me to be home for the next ten years, because I know I could be doing so much more.

Sandy said...

I have been thinking about all the issues here.
I'm not sure you would be any happier in academia than in the public schools. The battles in academia are not always about the good fight. They are about tenure and funding and snobbery and ... oh, me, bitter?
Perhaps you can think about the class next Fall as a trial run, but be aware that teaching is only a small part of what academics do, and it is often undervalued by the university system, given little more than lip service. You can use your time in the School of Ed to talk to people and gather info to make your decision. You don't have to decide right now to enter the EdD program next year - you could, as Maria said, wait a year. You don't have to do it here either - you could commute up to SU, or even, heaven forbid, online!
Shaun's comments about your possible feelings of copping out are interesting. You're torn between your commitment to education broadly, and your kids specifically. Clearly both are important. I think it would be possible to keep homeschooling and do an EdD, but it will require all sorts of discipline, family support (financial and otherwise), perhaps foregoing any paid employment.
You seem to see three options. Keep homeschooling like you are. Get your EdD, and either become an academic educator, or venture into pubic schools.
I know you like homeschooling, but you seem to need more in your life, to feel like you're contributing to the universe beyond "just" your family. That seems reasonable and good to me. But I also think its fine to take time and say - this is the stage I'm in right now, later I can do more. And its also fine to do more now, if you can balance it. Oh, so that isn't a helpful statement, is it.
I think you would get very frustrated in public school very quickly. The system is not in kids best interests, because education is political, in every sense of the word. We use public money, so we have to have a public consensus on what knowledge we should have in common as a society, and the accountability of NCLB sounds reasonable but is a disaster. Teachers stick it out because they hope they can do something for kids despite it all.
So, get your EdD, and we'll start that school. Which terrifies me, because I'm scared of how much work it is, the possibilities of failure, the financial insecurity of it, the complications of working with others (both practical and philosophical disagreements are to be expected), the lack of a market around here...
Take your time. Don't feel rushed to make this decision. You do have time. And in the meantime, you're doing good by your boys.
I'm sure I'll have more to add to this disjointed ramble. I'm off work next week, and though I have E every day, perhaps we could find time to squeeze in a coffee/tea chat.

Sandy said...

Ok, we talked about you over lunch today, and M thinks that if you have a passion for something, the crap of academia is much easier to cope with. But you may have to move to get a job once you're done.
We both think that you can both serve your children and the children of the world at the same time, and that you, particularly, need to do both in order to be happy and satisfied. Too many "both"s ...
As a young person, I watched both my parents working on graduate degrees and it set an example of hard work and continuing search for knowledge etc etc. But they weren't homeschooling me...

Evenspor said...

Congratulations on being presented the opportunity. It sounds like a big honor. Good luck with your decisions. That's got to be tough. (sorry, I don't have any advice or anything)

Tyson said...

Hi Elsie:

My guess is that you would be very good at teaching the Master's class and would have the chance to influence in important ways; perhaps more so than in today's public education system. At the moment the Public School System seems so rigid as to be nearly meaningless unless passing tests upon which a child has been drilled ad nauseam is tantamount to education; what a great method for killing off curiosity and the love of learning.

I was looking at my elementary school report cards recently and found that there seemed to be more emphasis on neatness, attitude,personal appearance, posture...etc, that on academic subjects.

My first grade report card (1951-52) says that "the development of a good citizen is the aim of this school. Some of the attitudes and habits a good citizen should have" are: working neatly, listening attentively, obeying promptly, attempting to maintain good posture....does this sounds like the culture in which Hitler came to power?

While the above can be useful, and I don't disagree with developing "good citizens," our definitions are radically different. My good citizens expose themselves to many ideas and world views, think about them critically and above all support and exercise first amendment rights. They are also mind their manners and "play well with others."

So there's a diatribe from one quite removed from public education other than the horrid NCLB non-thinking and shameful legislating.

Go indoctrinate those liberal arts folks. I'm optimistic that some of them know how to think and enjoy doing so.

Are my prejudices showing yet?


Granna Judy said...

Well, all those good and perceptive comments are a hard act to follow. I've been thinking about this all day and my first question is, where is your heart? Which thought makes you happy, the idea of spending your days in an elementary classroom encouraging the kind of learning that you want to encourage, or spending your days in a college classroom encouraging others to encourage etc? I think Shaun's first point is a really important one -- where are your gifts and where do you feel a calling?

And I also wonder if you can reflect a bit on your own childhood from this perspective. You had two working parents, and a mother who went back to school for a while. It's a bit different in that you weren't homeschooled, so someone else was taking responsibility for your education rather than your working, schooling mother, but there might be something to be learned about the boys' possible upcoming experience from looking at your own.

And it's wonderful that this isn't a decision that has to be made today. You can think about it and let it kind of ferment in your head, and your ideal path may become clear as next semester progresses.

anthromama said...

Hi Elsie, coming here from Munchkinland.
My husband is thinking of getting an EdD, but he's looking at being something of a theorist or researcher instead of training teachers, if I'm using the right terms! He's interested in how some of the principles at the foundation of Waldorf education could be disseminated into mainstream education, as well as investigating in a truly scholarly way (which is sorely lacking in Waldorf, I think there are only outcome studies based on alumni surveys!) how Waldorf compares with other methods.

Part of what interests him is how Waldorf could help all teachers. You mention that you see public school policy as "anti-intellectual." Do you mean that the system doesn't foster true learning and value the intellect? I see it somewhat of the opposite, that public schools emphasize only the intellect in that arts and physical movement have been cut out in favor of (increasingly ineffective) efforts to teach the "head" skills of the 3 R's. Also that the child is a tabula rasa, ready to be "filled" with "knowledge", instead of being led to understanding from within. I think Waldorf offers teachers a way to achieve what you describe as being "flexible and creative, and use their senses and their mental abilities to really look at and respond to the children they teach."

Of course, we have the same quandary as you do: how to provide a nurturing home life for our kids while pursuing these goals. We're not homeschooling, so that would not be an issue, but we probably would not be able to afford Waldorf school (and we can't know anyway, without grandparental help) at all if he were in grad school.

I think if you really want to pursue the improvement of the public school system as a form of human-rights activism, the academia route is the way to go. On the one hand, it's possible that a single person could make a huge difference in a single school or district. But how much more of a ripple effect could you have if you were publishing and teaching in the way you aspire to?

JoVE said...

This is an interesting discussion. Sorry, I'm coming a bit late. I agree with others who say you don't have to decide this right away. You could take this one course (recognizing that you will be treated differently than a full-time academic and possibly ignored altogether by the faculty unless you make a strong effort to be included) and see how much satisfaction you get from teaching future teachers.

And the EdD or returning to teaching can wait. You have a lot of years left of useful adult life, but your kids are only kids for a little while. So finding some balance between contributing to the world (perhaps by adjunct teaching regularly) and homeschooling seems more sensible.

On the political front, I think that this is indeed a good fight to fight and if you think you have something to contribute you should find a way to do so. Again, it isn't going to be solved tomorrow so waiting until your kids are older might not be too much of an issue.

But I also wonder if the contribution to the fight you suggest is not more likely to lead to frustration than other contributions. Although the way the policy and politics have been going favours teachers not having the creativity to respond to kids, I don't think that creating different kinds of teachers is likely to change anything. A lot of those great teachers have left the system in frustration.

The problem is in the political realm and arguments need to be made in that realm. Voters need to have a better understanding of the issues. Political campaigns need to be waged. In that sense writing some of the things you write on this blog (like your later post on the difference between teaching and homeschooling; which I read first) makes a contribution. Writing that kind of thing for a wider audience (e.g. a magazine or newspaper) might also be effective. And if you have that kind of gift (to go back to Shaun's questions), it might combine more easily with homeschooling your kids.

Tough decisions. Good luck. I hope this discussion is helping you.

elsie deluxe said...

anthromama, I think what I mean by anti-intellectual is that kids are not expected to actually think, just spit back facts. They're not learning how to learn, or how to do, just how to take tests. It's not a meaningful education. The arts are also a problem, of course, but the way the academic disciplines are taught leaves much to be desired.

JoVE, I love your thought that I could write. This has come up before. I feel like I hardly know where to start, but I would love to be publishing some writing. It would combine with homeschooling very well indeed.