Saturday, March 27, 2010

If You Can Read this, Thank Yourself and Your Folks

I keep seeing this bumper sticker:

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

I hate this bumper sticker. I hate this idea more than anything. I can't stand it. It takes all responsibility, all onus, all power out of the hands of the students and their families. It leaves one with the idea that anything intelligent about you, anything good, is thanks to those caring, loving people who gave so much of themselves. Anything bad about you is your own fault. Any learning was their doing. Any deficiencies in your education is because you weren't paying attention.

I am a writing teacher. Granted, I'm not the kind of grade-school kind of teacher who talks about spelling (i before e and all that) or vowels (when two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking). I get students long after they've already been ruined by the school system, when the only questions left are not driven by curiosity, but by whether or not this is going to be on the test. I can tell you that, as a teacher, I don't want the credit for "teaching" my students to write.

I tell my students as they leave my class that if they are better writers at the end of my course than they were at the beginning, it's their doing, not mine. I tell them that if they've grown as a person, if they've learned something that they use later, it wasn't my doing, it was theirs. We talk about writing and we write. I know a few things about the subject and I'm glad to share, so long as they are. The only real wisdom that I bring to the game is the wisdom to stay the hell out of their way.

You dont' need to go to school to learn how to read. You don't need to have a teacher teach you. you can teach yourself, so long as you have someone there--a parent, a grandparent, a big sister, a babysitter--who is willing to share what they know about it.

Do the teachers help? Sure. But much of what they do is instill behavior controls, organization, conformity, the ability to not distract others.

I distract others all the time. What the hell is wrong with that?

Teaching how to read takes months and couldn't be done in a room of 20 other kids without controls in place. The controls come first.

I have the utmost respect for teachers who are great. I've known my share, and I'm sure you have, too. They are loving, they are giving. But they didn't give the gift of reading to you or to me or to our children. We give that gift to ourselves. It's in us.

Our learning is in us. It is not external, it's internal.

Stop telling your kids that learning is someone else's job. My job will get a lot easier if you do.

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