“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Speaking on behalf of many of my colleagues, I can say that we suffer vertigo.
Teaching brings forth a host of images and thoughts about the “higher calling” of the profession. Those of us who teach can, in fact, DO. The requirement in public colleges is to keep abreast of current trends in our disciplines, update our curricula, test, grade, evaluate, assess, modify, survey, and reassess, all in the squish beneath the presses of Big Data, while remaining inspirational to our students, of course. Classroom productivity levels must rise so that our tax dollars provide the most bang for the buck. The government wages war on its public educators with such vehemence and ferocity that there are days when I feel as if I’m in an ambush at the Battle of Cajamarca. A day rarely passes on campus when I can simply arrive to do what I do best and for that which I was originally hired. Each week, underscored by a plethora of meetings to attend, surveys to complete, reports to read and write, then further meetings to assess the reports, drones on and on in a mind-numbing loop jokingly referred to as “Continuous Quality Improvement”–a perfectly Orwellian term if ever there was one.
Professor Dave Hill, the Chief Editor of the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies at the University of Northampton, UK wrote in the introductory paragraph of his article titled, Class, Capital and Education in this Neoliberal and Neoconservative Period: “The current neoliberal project, the latest stage of the capitalist project, is to reshape the public’s understanding of the purposes of public institutions and apparatuses, such as schools, universities, libraries. In schools, intensive testing of pre-designed curricula (high stakes testing) and accountability schemes (such as the‘failing schools’ and regular inspection regime that somehow only penalizes working class schools) are aimed at restoring schools (and further education and universities) to what dominant elites – the capitalist class – perceive to be their “traditional role” of producing passive worker/citizens with just enough skills to render themselves useful to the demands of capital.”
The remainder of this excellent 25-page article provides a worthy read to educators around the free-market globe as he points to the overreaching agendas in education by those who DO NOT TEACH. One look no further than the opening lines in the Wiki on US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. His insipid professional history reveals the insidious truth about the person placed in charge to reform public education–a charter school-loving puppet who has never taught in the classroom. Early in his career, an investment banker buddy appointed him to direct a public education initiative that led to an eight year-long appointment by Mayor Richard M. Daley as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. His not-so-brilliant “Race To The Top” initiative and other plutocrat-inspired ideas as the U.S. Secretary of Education appointed by President Obama in 2009, has left American educators in a state of vertigo. Thankfully, the National Education Association passed a vote of “no confidence”, asking for his resignation in 2014, immediately followed by the American Federation of Teachers approving a similar resolution. He will step down at the end of this year, but the scorched earth that he leaves in his wake keeps this educator in a state of flux.
Thank you to my students and the classes I teach for giving me the breath of life and living that I need every day to push forward and onward for all of us.