Monday, March 26, 2012

What "respect for kids" is NOT.

 I am so grateful to the makers of this video! It makes explaining my position so much easier. I've been saying for what seems like a VERY long time, in every arena in which I discuss education (from Twitter to the school board table) that we need to understand what it means to respect children.

See, I know that adults in the institution of public education believe that they respect children, so it is natural that they might resent my implication that they do not. So I try very hard to make clear what I believe respect to be.

Recently I heard the term, "authoritarian respect." That clarified the issue for me: that is what kids get in schools. But in my view, that is not respect at all, and further: it is not working.

I believe that high up on the list of reasons why public education is failing is the mistaken definition of respect for kids.

Take a look at this:

I've taken part in some Facebook discussions about this video and one thing is clear and impressive: the passion of these teachers.  But there is something so obviously wrongheaded about how this passion is directed that makes the video a parody of the thing it's trying to say.

This is "authoritarian respect." This is what we all commonly know as demanding excellence, demanding hard work, and letting kids know that you believe in the best that they can do. But what is missing?

3/27 Addendum
Today I learned that this video is actually a poem.

Does this change its message? He's made a big deal out of the play on words: "Make" money and "make" someone do something. I don't think it's one of those wordplays that sheds light on a situation. I hate to make light of something that he clearly puts blood, sweat and tears into, though. There are passionate teachers who believe holding kids up to high standards and making them do all that they are capable of doing is the best thing they can do for them. Who am I to put them down?



  1. We all know that if there is fear in a child's heart, most children will comply. Despite the obvious passion and commitment of the teachers, what I see in the video is one-sided. It's all about the teacher. The child is invisible. The child has no voice. The children portrayed were interchangeable. They were not individuals. What about the child?

  2. Wow. I have seen gentler versions of this as a feel-good, anti-teacher-bashing piece. This version looks like the stress of high-stakes testing has really kicked in.

  3. What strikes me is the obvious passion of the teachers who believe that what they are doing is what a caring adult does for kids when they want them to push themselves and excel. But they are the poster children for What Not to Do. Care, yes. Negate, no.

  4. Who are you to put down the passionate teacher who believes treating a child in this manner is actually a good thing? You are a member of society who sees the hurt, fear, and compliance at the cost of self in the faces of those children. That's like asking who you are to put down the father who is passionate about beating his teenage son in order to get chores done or the mother who is passionately smacking her cranky toddler in the grocery store! What those adults are doing is abusing those kids by crushing their souls and squashing out their individuality and pushing them into what the system wants them to be rather than having any respect for the individual. Who are you to put that down? You are someone with a heart and brain who CARES. And that makes you awesome. :)

  5. Serenity, thank you!

    I do feel I have to look at the reality of the lives of teachers who have no control over what they do. They have expectations handed down to them from above, and are faced with the consequences below. How do you cope with that when what you really want to do is teach, see kids grow and expand their view of the world? When you have no choice but to teach kids stuff they don't care about, I can see how "making" them care seems like the only good option.

    I don't disagree that what we see in this video, what he writes in his poem, is wrongheaded. But teachers didn't make the world they teach in. When kids don't care, and you can't change the system you're in, maybe "making them care" seems the only good option?

    1. I say if John Taylor Gatto can do it, so can any other teacher with the inclination to do so :)

    2. I was talking to Lisa N. about that earlier today. I'm not sure everybody's got the kind of makeup to oppose the status quo, when it is as powerful as how we treat kids in school. First you have to identify that you are doing harm, and I thing there are a lot of teachers who believe the "tough love" thing is good for the kids. Then you have to find others who believe as you do, or chances are you won't go out of your comfort zone. And if you do find others to support you, it's still difficult to put your own job in jeopardy. You have to have some financial lattitude, what you can call FY money. It's not something that everyone has the ability or inclination to take on. I try to remember that point of view.

  6. @Lisa Cooley,
    I think this video would be such a great piece to show to a prospective teacher, leader, school board member and see their reaction. Personally, I find it repulsive. Teachers like that make people like me hate school.

    I'd love to go line by line explaining why I find this video so disturbing, but fortunately, that work has already been done for me by the remarkable Joe Bower. Check out his verse by verse critique. Mark my words. You will LOVE it ;)

  7. The challenge is this... the politics of the poem is amazing.

    The pedagogy... decidedly less so.

    I remember the first time I saw Taylor perform the poem - I was teaching in NYC and I went to the occasional poetry slam. There was - not surprisingly - some overlap in those worlds. At the time, we were battling the insane Wall St. culture in NYC, and his poetry was a rallying cry for all of us who had chosen teaching as a career and had felt marginalized and dismissed by others for having made that choice.

    Years later, as I was starting SLA, I re-listened to the poem and was really struck by the really problematic pedagogy behind the poem. It is a *very* traditional view of what teaching looks like, and there are things in the poem that I'd have huge issues with as an admin.

    But I still remember the fire I felt the first time I heard him do it.

    Zac Chase does a great write up about the poem as well:

    1. Chris, I totally get how a teacher could be fired up by the poem. It deals with the realities within which teachers work. I think we have to deal with those realities, and with the issue of self-respect among teachers who do not control their working conditions. People have to try to find job satisfaction under impossible circumstances. Just denouncing it as less than optimal pedagogy (to put it mildly)isn't enough. It really is a rallying cry to change the classroom for the well-being of both teachers and students.

  8. I was thinking of your post yesterday when I had a conversation with a mother who sends her kids to public school. She said that the schools on one side of town are totally different from the schools on the other side. I thought she was referring to socio-economics and how one school has all the resources and the other doesn't. She didn't believe it was the resources. She said it was the way the children are treated. At one school, children are treated gently with love and respect. Teachers think that the children are precious. At the other school, the children are yelled at and treated like crap. They are treated as prisoners and the kids are told to sit still, be quiet, and do worksheets all day. The kids are very afraid and full of anxiety.

  9. Gah! That sounds awful! It also reminds me of New Orleans in the couple of years after Katrina, when some kids went to charters, and the "leftover" kids went to the Recovery School District.

    The idea that we can teach kids, and that they can learn, without teachers first finding out who they are is nonsensical when you think of it. Think of the power in that simple relationship: an adult focusing attention on the identities kids bring to school with them. Simply changing the focus from teaching to learning, from adult giving knowledge to children hungrily going after it, is a real dynamic change in schools.