I like tea. I enjoyed my first cup of tea with my grandmother. Nana was a tea drinker, and a tea-totaler. A fine little power-house of a woman from Ireland, was she. At fourteen she sailed across the Atlantic with little more than the desire to have a life with less misery than those that stayed behind. It’s safe to say, she was a worker, maybe a dreamer, not much of a scholar. Scholarly pursuits are often diminished when release from hunger and survival are your guiding forces. She may have gotten an honorary diploma with exceptional distinction at the School of Hard Knocks. I don’t recall any artifacts with her school colors. I never heard her hum her alma mater theme song- Oh, wait, yes- it went something like this, “ Oh, Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, tsk, tsk.” She made a mean cup of tea. Milky sweet confection, definitely worthy of a prize, a ribbon, an honorary shout out.
Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen. Tsk Tsk, indeed! Heart rendering personal memoir, tales of goodness and virtue, self-promotion and grandiosity and suddenly the cream has curdled and we are pointing our fingers in shame and disgust while looking for the next best thing. The media has uncovered and/or produced one shameful example of false bravado after another. I, myself, seem to be surrounded by adults attempting to convince a committee, college review board, or Pulitzer prize panel that they are worthy, the best, the ultimate in all around goodness. What is this all about? Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame on crack, I think.
In the education industry- perhaps it is the “Race to The Top” that replaced the “No Child Left Behind” philosophy that is encouraging a group of attention-seeking, pretentious egocentrics. Hurry run, me first, I am the best, the brightest, on top. If I (the proverbial “I”, not me personally) look good and sound even better, you may not notice that I am not meeting every need of every student, or even just a few. I am not attempting to do my job or much of anything.
An administrator that I know was recently awarded a prestigious distinction with a ceremony in Washington D.C. to celebrate his, or his school’s prominence. The sad fact is, anyone can write their own ticket to greatness and receive prestige and honor for doing so. This particular school administrator told tale of a trip abroad that enhanced the concept of teaching about, and understanding diversity in his application. The sadder truth is, the administrator claiming this correlation was a chaperone on a church-based trip, not the director, coordinator or creator of a camp. He certainly enjoyed the trip as I recall. Yet his claims toward being a great leader of diversity in the rural district that employs him went unchecked, on the local level as well as the national level. His blue ribbon prize might look pretty but what does it represent? Or worse, what does it misrepresent; his lack of authenticity? His need for perceived greatness? At what cost? The same district was charged with bullying based on racism. But hey, they have a blue ribbon, and that is a ribbon of color, one might say. The administrator and the school may be doing some things very well, but I suppose not enough or not well enough to gain an award without seeking credit, where credit is not due.
Like Greg Mortenson, or his imagined best self, many of us want to enhance schools, build schools, and provide excellent education for our children, and those we are responsible for teaching. We want to teach all children, to the best of their ability. We want to respect and celebrate diversity. We sometimes want to help the children of the world so they may experience the freedoms and opportunities that we have. Sounds good. Sign me up! Let’s buy the book, the package, the as-seen-on-tv version of grandeur and boasting and bragging. Look here at my shiny awards, ribbons, newspaper and media blitz! This way you won’t notice some hard truths.
Let’s build schools for girls in Afghanistan. That’s the ticket! Why worry about our own girls? 25% will be abused this year, and next, and the year after that. But hey, they have schools! Yippee! Give out a ribbon or a star! Let’s promote more myths about other cultures. See how much they need us? We are so much better. We are so lucky, fortunate, and educated.
Education is work. It takes time and effort. It doesn’t always look pretty or impressive. Some days it is plain old drudgery. Open up to page 58, write down the notes, put down the pencil, demonstrate, regurgitate, faster, better, Now! Let’s make something pretty instead. I might be playing the banjo and singing about the Magna Carta or the Pythagorean theory, but the children are not gaining on the ever changing battery of testing. The scores are pretty low, but that’s ok we can lower the passing score. Voila! We look great again, we passed, or we pretended, we passed the buck.
Don’t look now, these are big, hairy issues. CPS, social services, and law enforcement don’t have any award ceremonies for families, students, or educators. Students are lost, dealing with abandonment, addiction and abuse. Some. Not all. Not all the time. Budgets are being butchered. Rather than provide a circus of celebration, and a few small pockets of excellence, why not have some honest conversations to determine how best to serve our children and our communities? Why not focus on creating students and adults with integrity and purpose. Do we need any more false and empty promises?
I don’t have the answers. I do know that we seem to be operating from a place of entertainment and celebration more so than a place of expectations, inquiry and knowledge-seeking. I do think a couple of lumps of sugar makes almost anything taste sweeter but only briefly and not at all if I have to try to swallow the big hairy truth with it. Can Oprah highlight a quiet school district with fair to middlin’ test scores? A teacher, administrator and parent that work together to help a student- even if the help is provided without ceremony but the rewards are long standing and possibly life changing? Maybe as simple as motivating a student to do their homework, come to class, and later life, prepared. Save the banners and blue ribbons. Pour the tea after homework, help yourself to a biscuit. Two lumps or three? From where I sit, the enrollment for the School of Hard Knocks is growing in leaps and bounds. Can you sing Nana’s song to the tune of “It’s a Hard Knock Life”?