“I caught the darkness
Drinking from your cup
I said is this contagious?
You said just drink it up”
As I ponder the past and my experiences in education, I am reminded of the Leonard Cohen song, “The Darkness”. The opening lines are quite poignant as the bluesy singer recounts that he caught “the darkness” drinking from someone’s cup. He tried to protect himself by asking “Is this contagious?” and the response was to “Just drink it up”. This is often a perfect analogy for what those in power in the education system wish for all teachers to do… “Just drink it up.”
This reminds me of the status quo that exists in education. The endless practices, policies, procedures that teachers carry on year after year without ever really questioning why. For example, assigning homework nightly seems to be an almost expected duty of the elementary school teacher. Yet, just about all credible empirical research demonstrates that there is no correlation between elementary homework and success (its found that there may even be negative consequences). Yet, we persist in doing what is “normal”. We persist in doing what is “comfortable”, simply because we grew up with these practices, teachers have been doing them for years, and parents expect them to be done (even if there is no evidence to back up the practices). We are expected to keep silent and just “do our jobs.” For that reason I have decided to label these antiquated practices “The Darkness”.
I remember being a young teacher and administrator and being told to basically “not rock the boat” another euphemism for embracing “The Darkness”. I watched colleague after colleague drink from the cup and become lost to that contagious darkness that educational leaders above me eschewed as “good practice”. Yet there was never any concrete data to support the use of chalkboards, textbooks, rows of seats, etc. So I decided to challenge the darkness.
In challenging the darkness I implemented innovative solutions to issues facing the modern student and classroom. Chalkboards were removed and replaced with entire floor to ceiling dry-erase walls, one to one technology programs were implemented, no classroom was allowed to have rows of seats without special reasons for doing so, innovative seating made to engage students was implemented, IT networking infrastructure was upgraded from the ground up, paper communications were almost entirely eliminated, immediate 24/7 access to a student’s progress was implemented, and yet for all of these changes I was told by those above me that it was too much change too fast. These zealots of the darkness wanted only silence because it was comfortable.
“Fools,” said I, “you do not know
Silence, like a cancer, grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
-Simon & Garfunkel
Indeed, it seemed that despite hard data that showed dramatic improvements to student learning, increased enrollment for all populations (but especially for the populations most in need), and fiscal budgetary responsibility the people wanted only to do what they were comfortable with. They returned to the darkness of the times when they were taught in school, for parents this meant that the pedagogy and practices they wanted for their child were at least to be 20+ years behind the present day and for the education leaders above me decades more beyond that. So many people claimed they wanted change, and as a change agent, I was brought in. I did exactly as advertised. I rocked the boat, I made noise in the silence, I shined a light against the darkness and while I was there the things that needed changing most improved. Students learning, enrollment, monetary funding, donations, volunteers, etc. These all hit new highs, but the contagious darkness was always there waiting to strike. That is why despite improvements a small group held out until the darkness won. Or, so it thought.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
I now know that there is a change coming. A new renaissance in education is to be born. I used that phrase once to describe what I was bringing to my classroom and to my school and it remained until I left. Until the darkness struck and won a round in the war. Then the warriors of darkness removed the new renaissance from all materials. How sad. It is a loss for them and for the children. And I almost swallowed the poisoned darkness and let it devour me from the inside out. Instead, I have grown stronger and more determined than ever to face that darkness. I know that my next classroom, my next school, my next community will be better off because I am willing to stand against the darkness and make the necessary changes that our children so desperately need and deserve. So to those acolytes of the darkness I say, your days are numbered. Like the dinosaurs your antediluvian practices will be washed away and the light will shine down as those purveyors of truth and justice, such as myself, fight to ensure that we do what is right for our students, for our teachers, our colleagues even if what is right is uncomfortable. We will not be cowards. We will not huddle in the corner while we watch our compatriots be taken down one by one. NO. We will stand with them and we will usher in the new era even if you are too afraid to allow the light into your darkened rooms. We are throwing the curtains open wide and we are ready to make the necessary sacrifices until you, the blind and lost, finally begin to see the light.
So have a toast and down the cup
And drink to bones that turn to dust (’cause)…
No one, no one, no one…
No one [not even the darkness] lives forever!
Step into the light my friends and be daring enough to sacrifice yourself for your students. Never let the dinosaurs who try to control the system sway you in your endeavor to prepare students for the world in which they will live as adults. Just because that 8th grade teacher never learned how to use a computer effectively, doesn’t mean that the students deserve comprehensive education including technology built into it every second of the school day. Make your choices, friends. The battle happens every day and you are on the front line.
For open eyes my dear
for open eyes
we will not drink to blindness dear
We’ll drink to open eyes!