July 21, 2024

Au Contraire?

Rufus T. Firefly
President: Huxley College

I often explain to graduate students that I don’t play devil’s advocate or any other clever games. Just because I may say something unsaid by others, does not mean that I don’t come to that perspective after careful thought and introspection.

Being an educator is a sacred obligation. Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up.

My career allows me to spend time in lots of classrooms around the world and to work with thousands of educators each year. This gives me perspective. I am able to identify patterns, good and bad, often before colleagues become aware of the phenomena. I have been blessed with a some communication skills and avenues for expression. I’ve published hundreds of articles and spoken at even more conferences.

People seem interested in what I have to say and for that I am extremely grateful.

The problem is that I am increasingly called upon to argue against a popular trend. That tends to make me unpopular. In the field of education, where teachers are “nice,” criticism is barely tolerated. Dissent is seen as defect and despite all of my positive contributions to the field, I run the risk of being dismissed as “that negative guy.”

Recently, I have written or been quoted on the following topics:

I’ve also written against homework, NCLB, RTTT, Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, Joel Klein, standardized testing, Education Nation, Common Core Curriculum Standards, Accelerated Reader, merit pay, Arne Duncan, union-busting, Cory Booker, Teach for America, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, mayoral control, the ISTE NETs, Hooked-on-Phonics, President Obama’s education policies, etc… You get the idea.

The “Jetbow” sandwich at NY’s Carnegie Deli

These are perilous times for educators. When once bad education policy was an amuse-bouche you could easily ignore, it has become a Carnegie Deli-sized shit sandwich. Educators are literally left to pick their own poison, when choice is permitted at all. If I take a stand against a fad or misguided education policy, my intent is to inform and inspire others to think differently or take action.

So why, pray tell am I boring my dear readers with my personal angst? An old friend and colleague just invited me to write a magazine article about the “Flipped Classroom.” Sure, I think the flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum. But….

The question is, “Do I wish to gore yet another sacred cow?” Is speaking truth to power worth the collateral damage done to my career?

In the 1960s, the great Neil Postman urged educators to hone highly-tuned BS and crap detectors. Those detectors need to be set on overdrive today. I’m concerned that I’m the only one being burned.

What to do? What to do?

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
by Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar 
From the Marx Bros. film "Horse Feathers" (1932)


6 thoughts on “Au Contraire?

  1. Thanks for standing on that wall … For us … Or should I say with us. Interesting that Parade took what you have said as anti games … When I researched it I came away with more of anti cost associated with game development and how that money could be best used elsewhere.

  2. So what you are for is authentic learning where students have a voice, the medium is appropriate to the times and the available resources, and the measurement of learning is real? You are for kids, actual durable learning, deep meaningful reflection, educators who are fully engaged and local decision making. I am for you! You make me think and we all should do that multiple times a day.

  3. Don Quixote…I mean Gary,

    I understand your dilemma. I admire your willingness to take on foolish whims and speak the truth. So how much more damage can you do to your career anyway? It worked for Groucho and he got to kiss Marilyn Monroe. Not too shabby.

  4. In a well-behaved web, where every antagonistic post provides a link back here and to CMK, then I don’t think you should worry too much about it.

    You have a significant body of affermative, positive work. This includes essays and reflections, which offer exceptional value over the “(int) Best/Essential (nouns)” style of Ed-link blogging. Beyond that, you have CMK, this incredible a pillar of experiential practice that remakes teachers and classrooms.

    I sympathize with your concern of becoming known primarily as a curmudgeon or quotable contrarian, but on the well-linked web, every quote should funnel readers back here. So long as you maintain this as a monument of all the things you’re for, don’t worry too much about taking a strong public stance against various toxic ed-fads.

  5. Interestingly, if you stopped writing against things, would you get so many articles and citations in these magazines? Not that I support many (or even any) of the things you are against. But do you think you’d get the same coverage if you focused on the positive agenda? probably not…

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