Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957. In it she described an alternate America in which people of integrity in education, art, letters, and especially industry, are becoming increasingly forced by the government to act against their own best interests, in the name of serving other masters - the collective, the State, the amorphous entity known as the "common good." Bit by bit, the great minds of America realize that the vocations, professions, lifestyles that they love and cherish are being ruined by oppressive and meddlesome rights-denying bureaucracy that, more often than not, doesn't really understand the nature of what it's meddling with. In the end, these great minds decide (are persuaded, actually, by a mysterious figure named John Galt) to "go on strike," and one by one, over a period of time, they vanish from the world, their factories, industries, mines, foundries and establishments abandoned or destroyed by their own hand. The nation is sent into a panic, both at the trend, and at the fact that so many of the "prime movers" of what Rand called "the motor of the world" have simply vanished -- ceased utterly to be productive, by choice -- daring the country to try and survive without them.A few weeks ago, I blogged about Gerald Conti’s decision to leave the teaching profession early:
"After writing all of this," he writes in his conclusion to [his] two-page letter, "I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered. For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, 'Words Matter' and 'Ideas Matter'. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean."His retirement letter, which went viral, sparked what I hoped would be a national outrage. It almost did, and maybe that outrage is still there, slowly simmering. My own blog post got hundreds of hits - thank you, fearless readers! - in a very short time, but that has slowed down greatly (625 reads of my article in the past month, but just 13 over the past week.) I also see less of Mr. Conti’s name in the news blotters and aggregators.
What I do see a lot more of is Common Core-fueled angst, plus a healthy dose of frustration at onerous (and by most accounts, idiotic) teacher evaluation procedures. This is a heartening sign, perhaps.
What I mean is simply this: The Gerald Conti outrage was a grass-roots outrage. The words of support for Mr. Conti that I read on blogs and newsposts all last month were largely from the community at large – laypersons. Sure, there was a healthy sprinkling of teachers and former teachers in the mix, but the majority seemed clearly to be just plain old folks sharing their sentiments and (mostly) supporting Mr. Conti’s decision. However, now that the focus has turned very specifically from Gerald Conti as a human-interest story to the more technical issues of education standards, assessment and evaluation, and teacher personnel management, I am starting to see more educators whip out their virtual pens and rattle their sabers in protest, publicly, and THAT is a welcome sign.
The fear that educators so often feel that forces them to swallow the Kool-Aid and “play the game” (see my thoughts on the ties that bind teachers’ mouths and minds here and here) seems to finally be being overcome by the patent absurdity of the system in which we find ourselves.
Maybe more educators will begin putting their money where their mouths are. Case in point, the latest publicized exemplar, reported by WGRZ-2 in Buffalo, of a principled departure and a poison pen retirement letter – this time, by a principal:
Principal Kathleen Knauth says the new state standards for teacher evaluations have drastically changed her role as an educator for the worse. That is why she is leaving Hillview Elementary [in the eastern suburbs of Buffalo], where she has been the principal for ten years, at the end of this school year:
Her letter is shorter and sweeter than Gerald Conti’s letter, but I can’t help but think that it could potentially have more impact, coming from an administrator, who are traditionally assigned the role of defending the school and the district, and even going down with the ship, if need be. Here is page one of the letter; read the full letter here:"Everything is so fundamentally against my belief system that I had to make a change," she says. Knauth says the new statewide teacher evaluation process changed her job description so much, she decided to retire early. "I really miss being a principal instead of being a typist and a statistician," says Knauth.
In Ayn Rand's not-so-fictional America, the nation could not survive with its greatest minds and producers "on strike." How many teachers will have to leave before anyone really notices? (Edit: I just added a new post, 6/1/2013, on that very issue here.) What do you think? Is this part of a growing trend? Will a “Tipping Point” be finally reached? Does anyone else out there feel the same? I dunno (but I sure hope so), I’m just A.S.K.ing…