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. ((I know a thing or two about that. For that reason, and several others, I’m not a fan of bullies.))
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 grandfather ((played exquisitely by George C. Scott)) who walks him through the situation with the relevant words: ((I’m quoting the short story, the movie lines are slightly different.))
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. ((There’re some weird and strangely satisfying differences between the two. Seriously. Check them both out.))
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 fancy ((And pricey looking)) 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. ((Who, I wonder, is “for” bad teachers?))
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, hesitant ((But not unwilling. It’s a long journey. Take time to rest.)) 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.