Monday, May 26, 2014

In honor of retiring educators everywhere

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was a little quiet on Facebook and Twitter the past couple of weeks because I was busy planning and hosting the Hunterdon County Education Association annual retirement dinner, which took place on May 22nd. Retirement dinners are bittersweet because while we celebrate and honor decades of service and professional excellence, we also say goodbye to many years of experience that, given the current education 'reform' climate, may never be replaced.

Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.
~ Margaret Mead

Within the first 6 months of Christie's first term the number of public school employees who filed for retirement almost doubled that of the previous year. While I don't have statistics on the past 4 years, I have personally spoken to many retiring educators who are simply fed up. A special education teacher with whom I had the honor to work for 10 years, who worked miracles with our most challenging children for over 20 years, told me that while she didn't want to retire, she could no longer subject her students to education 'reform'. Another is taking an early retirement, sacrificing part of her pension, because she just can't take it anymore. This is how we 'attract and retain the best teachers'? This is how we make a great public education system better? We make educators' jobs so unbearable that they leave rather than inflict damaging policies on their students?

A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge and wisdom in pupils.
~ Ever Garrison

For the table decor and program I searched the Internet for quotes about education—not necessarily about teachers because not everyone who works in education is a certified teacher, but all of us who work in schools every day—whether administrative assistant, library clerk, custodian, cafeteria aide, maintenance worker, bus driver or teaching assistant—teach them in some way, shape or form.

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant a tree; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.
~ Chinese Proverb

Some of the quotes brought tears to my eyes because of the author's profound understanding of what education, learning and knowledge really are. Their words are diametrically opposed to ed 'reform' speak. Rest assured, Socrates didn't care about 'accountability'; Jean Piaget knew 'churn' was something one only did to make butter; and William Arthur Ward knew the real definition of 'rigor' means 'strictness, severity, rigidity, or harshness, as in dealing with people'—not something one would want in a school. And as for 'transformational change'? Well, I'm sure John Dewey's definition was very different than Bill Gates'.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
~ John Dewey

This is who we are. This is what we do. Never forget it.

The following is my introduction speech. The quotes I put on the tables and in the program are interspersed throughout this post. Remember them when you are at your wit’s end, when you’re struggling with VAMs or SGOs or SGPs or test prep or evaluations. Print them out and hang them in your classroom, your faculty room, by the copier—heck—on the front door of your school! Mail them to elected officials and board of education members. That other stuff that disrespects students and educators is not why we became educators. This is why:

The secret in education lies in respecting the student.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here is my speech:

"Good evening everyone and welcome to the Hunterdon County Education Association 2014 Retirement Dinner. Tonight we celebrate a combined total of over 500 years of education excellence in Hunterdon County. Let that number sink in… 500 years. That’s half a millennium of experience we are losing. A little over 500 years ago one of the greatest artists who ever lived, Michelangelo, was at the height of his creativity carving the David, the Pieta and all his other great works. He would look at each block of marble and see the sculpture trapped inside.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

"I’m sure writer Joseph Addison was thinking of him when he said,
What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul.

"Tonight’s honorees, whether an Extra Special Person (ESP) or classroom teacher, are like Michelangelo in that you unlock the work of art that is every child you encounter.

"That ability is a gift. It cannot be manufactured. It can’t be tested or ranked or corporatized. The ability to work with children, to inspire, to motivate, to teach is a calling. It is an art, like any other and yet it is like no other because while Michelangelo created some of the greatest works of art mankind has ever known, we create the future.

I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.
~ Socrates

"How will the future judge us? 500 years from now, how will America look back on this dark moment in history? Well, if history does indeed repeat itself, then my friends, we are on the brink of another Renaissance. As the Middle Ages gave way to the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo, Copernicus, Columbus and Magellen, we are on the brink of a resurrection of our profession.

Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.
~ Jean Piaget

"It must happen; it will happen because we will make it happen! The quotes you see on your tables tonight are why. Next to being a parent, education is the second most important job there is. If you Google quotes about venture capitalism or politics or oh, I don’t know—dog groomers—you won’t find any by Socrates, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Albert Einstein because what we do really does change the world!

"So sit back and enjoy the evening. You truly have earned it!

Teaching is more than imparting knowledge; it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing facts; it is acquiring understanding.
~ William Arthur Ward

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The human mind is the greatest example of infinity on this very finite planet. It cannot be confined to box forever; it cannot have an endless stream of stuff shoved into it without a creative output or push-back. Eventually it—we—will break free. We will succeed in ending this ed ‘reform’ madness because it is diametrically opposed to what our profession is all about, and our students will consciously and unconsciously demand an end to it—they already are here in NJ. Teaching is an art, and no one understood that better than one of my heroes—one of the greatest artists and teachers who ever lived:

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
~ Albert Einstein