To Shut Up Or Not To Shut Up? That Is The Question

713307_wearing_a_suitSo I wrote Shut Up And Teach! yesterday and have gotten mixed reactions from it. Some have argued that my points were good while others have complained that I am advocating tying the hands and muzzling educators to prevent them from fighting for social justice. People have even gone so far as to write articles in response. Whatever the case, I enjoy the conversation that has developed.

This tells me one of two things. Either:

  1. I am completely wrong and totally out of line
  2. I am at least partially right and hitting too close for comfort

Investigating the arguments
I am completely wrong and totally out of line
These arguments include the facts that some school districts are using NCLB as an excuse to mandate specifics for the classes, down to where desks must be placed. Others said that telling teachers to shut up and teach is like telling Dr. Martin Luther King to shut up and preach.

That first argument is not an argument to abrogate No Child Left Behind law so much as it is an argument against administrators (and other yo-yos) who take things out of context and using NCLB as an excuse to add unnecessary rules. But again, we are complaining about administrators. Some quixotic people seem to get carried away in an ubiquitous vitriolic anti-administration furor. Complaining in and of itself is fruitless, though.

The other argument about Dr. King is really a red herring. To compare teachers to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or any other civil rights advocate is to assume the role of victim in the whole situation. As I wrote yesterday:

Itís a simple concept, but some teachers seem to derive greater joy from feeling victimized than they do from feeling victorious.

That seems to be the perfunctory choice of some teachers. MLK was not out there merely complaining. He presented solutions. He helped Jimmy Carter get elected, among other accomplishments. But the argument is still misguided.

Telling teachers to shut up and teach is like telling Dr. Martin Luther King to shut up and preach.

That’s misleading. More accurately, telling teachers to shut up and teach is like telling Martin Luther King to shut up and be an ethnic minority. He was already doing that. He was also preaching. My contention was that one of the best ways we can teach children is to teach them to be successful. So let’s look closer at option two.

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I am at least partially right and hitting too close for comfort
I think the key here is to correctly define complain. We see that there is not a single mention of presenting solutions. Complaining simply for the sake of “getting something off your chest” without providing realistic and viable solutions is for all intents and purposes the same as wanting to be run a marathon and never training. We can have all the desire we want, but lashing out by complaining really isn’t the appropriate way to solve it. I just don’t see Eeyore as the best teacher for my children.

I find it difficult to believe that teachers who make it a habit of complaining about things without offering solutions will be doing their very best job in educating children in the classroom. That is, unless they are teaching political science or social studies. But even so, solutionless arguments are really not arguments at all.

Even misguided solutions are not helpful. Like a friend telling someone with melissophobia to avoid brown recluse spiders. It won’t help. At least my plan of action will help the students be successful. Are we in education to make life easier or more fulfilling for us, or are we in education so that we can help students be more successful? Play the game. Success to the government equals passing that test. Success to the students equals passing that test. Success to the parents equals passing that test.

If nothing else, I have encouraged dialogue and a greater understanding of differing sides of the issue. Perhaps it should be quid pro quo. I admit that there are teachers who are teaching, and are still out there fighting the perceived injustice of NCLB, and you admit that there are also a plethora of teachers who use NCLB as just another excuse to fight the man or complain about something.

Now I’m going to San Antonio for a convention, although sometimes I wish I could just go to Argentina or Belize and get away from it all! :)

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

5 Comments on To Shut Up Or Not To Shut Up? That Is The Question

  1. Joel, like it or not, NCLB is the reality for the foreseeable future.

    Re: Invoking the Reverend Dr. MLK: I think it’s a desperate stretch. I don’t see the two situations – fighting for the rights of an entire race of people to be elevated from second-class, sub-human citizenship and NCLB. It is what it is, and we teachers have to do the best they can with what they have. Yes; I teach at an independent school, and so I am not dealing with the day-to-day realities of NCLB, but I am dealing with many situations which don’t make life easy for kids or teachers. I might vent to my family, but then I need to decide, “What is the solution?”

    Joel, I still maintain that your original post, “Shut Up and Teach” is on the money.

  2. I have to agree with you Joel. Although not a teacher yet, I seem to hear nothing but gripes and complaints about everything from administrators to parents to students to NCLB.

    I know it’s easy to stand on the sidelines and be an armchair quarterback and I may regret what I say in three years, but crying in a bucket – teach teacher.

    Stop being so politicized and simply get out there and do your job!

    I know, I know – shut up Eric, you’re no teacher yet. But I don’t come to the table without something to say. In the military we had those types too. They always wanted to complain about everything in the military – the new uniforms, the new regulations, the pay, the training, the bosses, the general, the way physical training was ran – everything! It really got your nerves (particularly as a supervisor) and eventually you would just tell ’em, “shut up and soldier!”

    Don’t worry about all that other stuff and just do your job. I know teaching is not like the military but there are similarities whether many teachers like it or not and I see more and more everyday. I suppose I should go through the similarities over at my blog someday just to highlight them.

    Good post Joel. I hope it does start a discussion on it. I’ll get off my soapbox before I really start!

  3. Oh, one thing and then I really will shut up!

    In the military we had a saying that had an element of truth in it, “A complaining soldier is a happy soldier.”

  4. Actually, I think that Eeyore IS a good role model to use in teaching children. Eeyore can be used as an example of someone who is a fatalist. Discussions can be brought about as to what a fatalist is, and whether or not being a fatalist is a productive way to live!

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