I’m Not Waiting

For many of my colleagues, the last few days have been some of those days where it’d just be better if there were no Internet, and there were a safe place to hide.  Folks’re keeping their heads down, or their hackles up.  Either way, something’s not right.  Between Oprah and NBC, it seems that everyone’s got some rocks or agendas or something to be chucking towards teachers.

And you know what?  That’s just not okay.

I mean, yes, there are plenty of problems with American education.  And much that needs fixing.  However, the television narratives of these last few days are oversimplified and suffering from a lack of thoughtfulness.  To say that the unions are the villians and the teachers are the puppets, or any of the variations of that I’ve seen over the last few days, is to sell things short.  Really, really short.  And for “journalists” to be selling the twisted narrative of bad teachers running amok is, well, disappointing, to be polite.

Since we’re Waiting for Superman and all, I thought I might offer up these words on Superman from Chris Crutcher, a fine writer and author of many books that, this week being Banned Books Week and all, you might want to check out sometime.

Crutcher wrote a fabulous short story, Angus Bethune, that was made, I thought, into a fine movie.  Both the story and the movie are about Angus, a rather stout fellow who has to endure a rough go of it, in part because he’s bright and in part because he’s, well, stout.1

What you need to know to understand what’s about to come is that Angus has to face a Tough Challenge – he’s a funny-sized dude, and he needs a tux.   And there’s only one that’ll fit – and it’s the funky and funny colored tuxedo.  So Angus, who’s picked on enough for anyone ever to be, has to decide if he’s going to face the tux, and the kids who’ll see him in it, or if he won’t.  And, he’s not alone in thinking through this choice.  In the story, it’s his stepdad, in the movie, his grandfather2 who walks him through the situation with the relevant words:3

Superman.  He’s not brave.  .  .  .  You don’t understand. He’s smart.  He’s handsome.  He’s even decent. But he’s not brave.  .  .  . He’s indestructible  .  .  . you can’t be brave when you’re indestructible.  It’s guys like you and me that are brave, Angus. Guys who are different, and can be crushed — and know it –but go out there anyway.

Angus has to choose if he wants to be brave or to be Superman.  And I won’t spoil either story for you – you should read one and watch the other.4

But that’s just it.  The invincible few who are in positions to sling arrows, rocks, accusations, and mean words from their pulpits and broadcast booths and their fancy5 sets aren’t the folks I’m interested in.  What do they have to be afraid of?  What do they have in the game?  When NBC moves on to the next topic, or Mark Zuckerberg to the next write off, well, so what?  They’ll take their capes on with them to the next thing.  And good on them, I guess.6

And I’m not in a hurry for Superman to descend into the picture and grab us all and carry us off to safety.  As my friend Chris says, “There’s no one coming for us.”

And that’s cool, if uncomfortably so.  It’s true.  I’m a fan of truth.

And the truth is, I’m interested in those of us who are not invincible, who can only take so much, and who bleed, suffer and break when the rocks get tossed.  I want human beings in our schools.  I want kind and compassionate mortals working with our children, people who know what it means to hurt and fail and to rise up and succeed in spite of the foolish words from high places.  Those’re the models I want for our students.  Even better if they don’t sling hard words back, but just get on with the teaching and the learning, hesitant7 to rest until they’ve moved the ball down the field, to mix my metaphors.

Superman can stick it.  I’m with the teachers.

Now, there’s plenty of work to do, and it’s hard and scary and painful and dangerous.  And some of us won’t make it.  But it’s good and important and noble work, and it’s worth doing.  And the television these last ten days hasn’t been helping.  It’s been getting in the way.

So I’m turning it off and moving on.

You in?

  1. I know a thing or two about that.  For that reason, and several others, I’m not a fan of bullies. []
  2. played exquisitely by George C. Scott []
  3. I’m quoting the short story, the movie lines are slightly different. []
  4. There’re some weird and strangely satisfying differences between the two.  Seriously.  Check them both out. []
  5. And pricey looking []
  6. Who, I wonder, is “for” bad teachers? []
  7. But not unwilling.  It’s a long journey.  Take time to rest. []

25 thoughts on “I’m Not Waiting

    1. I read your recent blog post. I hope you will reconsider “moving on.” We could use voices like yours. I agree that anger doesn’t play well. In time, I hope you will crystallize your knowledge and share your voice. You have personal and professional knowledge and speak about freedom in learning. I like it.

  1. This line is a killer: “And the truth is, I’m interested in those of us who are not invincible…”

    Bold, beautiful and truthful. It has never been about “getting it perfect” as if such a state might exist in real time, in real places, with actual people. The whole Waiting for Superman is the popular media metaphor conjured by those whose work insulates them from teaching and learning. The perspective shouts: we are epic telling you a story already told, neatly wrapped and impervious to emerging understandings. I wrote a few days ago on my blog how the trailers to the film recalled the absurdity and tragedy of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot where peering into boots and hats occupies a great portion of the time.

    There is no waiting in real time–Bakhtin’s novel time, as the world is constantly emerging, imperfect in its shame, beauty, sadness, joy and so on.

    I do not want some made-up superman to teach my child. Give me flawed human.

    Thanks Bud. An inspiring work, this.

    1. Thanks for saying this, Bud. You take an honest look at this issue. The polarization of this issue interferes with progress. I found this blog on Twitter. I’ll be looking for more of your insights.

  2. Uh, I never turned the tv on…. Been there, done that. Election season is just around the corner. The media will throw education out like last week’s news. We’ll be boring… until the election is over:)

    Thanks for sharing this, Bud. This is an incredible piece!

  3. you make an excellent point and it is for these reasons we all become teachers , because it is hard but we love doing it, and teachers should not be penalized for trying to do their jobs when the constant railing of standardized tests and state standards to meet while still trying to be creative in the classroom

  4. This is very well said. I haven’t seen the “Superman” documentary or read enough about it to have an opinion one way or the other, but I know teachers have been in an untenable position for a LONG time now. To put in in Palinese (which I hope is my last time ever) NCLB put and kept teachers in the crosshairs of public attack for as long as it was in play. It was ill conceived and gave non-educators a great place to stand and throw rocks. I can’t think of a profession with as many “expert” critics who know nothing about that profession. Yeah, we should probably have a better screening system in higher education to direct those personality types who aren’t likely to do well in teaching, away from it in the first place. But there are damn few citizens who know what it takes to walk that high thin tightrope between human connection with the student and delivery of academic content in a way it can be received. If most of them underwent the uninformed public scrutiny in their jobs that teachers are subjected to on a daily basis, they’d probably find a new line of work.

  5. I’m all for turning off the television (so as not to hear the same rhetoric over and over and over), rolling up my sleeves, and doing something.

    Thanks for your honest assessment of the movie, the media coverage, and the entire situation. Your perspective is refreshing.
    Stacey´s last blog post ..Have you shared your writing lately

  6. Thanks, Bud, for putting into words all of my frustrations. A week to fix education – all the talking heads will be able to do what some of us have tried to do our whole lives!

  7. “Now, there’s plenty of work to do, and it’s hard and scary and painful and dangerous. And some of us won’t make it. But it’s good and important and noble work, and it’s worth doing. ”
    Very beautifully expressed, Bud, and reminds me of something that one of the Jewish sages of yore said:

    “The Work is not for you to complete, but neither are you free to desist from taking part in it.”
    Terry Freedman´s last blog post ..What Skills Does an ICT Co-ordinator Need

  8. Thank you for your post. So nicely said and done! It can be so hard to watch the media speak of us so negatively when while we pour our heart and soul into what we do. Yes, there are problems out there….but want to work through them and do what is best for our kids.
    Thank you for your words!
    Holly

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