Show Boat’s Coming!

Those happy tap dancers who brought you NCLB[1] and RAT[2] are now launching an educationist show boat in an ad campaign called TEACH. I mean, of course, the Department of Education and Microsoft, helped along by an insurance company and an advertising agency. We don’t know whether Arne Duncan or Bill Gates will get to be Cap’n Andy, but you can bet there’ll be lots of smiling and singing. The acts in the show boat—commercials, announcements, recruiters—will try to persuade bright young persons that teaching is “creative, invigorating and meaningful.” One way of doing so: show them films of kids capering through wildlife preserves chasing frogs and of classrooms brimming with students dazzled by whirling papier mâché planets and surround-screen projections of the solar system[3].

And on whose authority do we know the creative potential of teachers? The head of “creativity” from Cap’n Andy’s ad agency assures us that “if you find different ways to communicate with and teach kids, where it’s not just that same old thing, using a video game or projecting the solar system in the classroom… that’s what’s going to get those test scores raised.” Either the ad man hasn’t seen all his commercials yet, or in his “creativity” he is showing his shakiness in sentence construction. If the students he hopes to reach are as shaky as he, maybe Cap’n Andy should have a bigger casting call than just for STEM[4] teachers and try to bring in a few ENG teachers too.

The problem with even that plan is that since this is a show boat rather than reality, you can bet that the acts won’t include “creativity” like scripted teaching, or any “invigorating” faculty meetings for curriculum mapping, or of “meaningful” interaction with students in online “classrooms,” or of faculty meetings to discuss RAT implementation, or of grading the essays of students who have spent twelve years pointing at answers on multiple choice tests instead of writing. You won’t see a teacher at his VAM review being told that he is a failure at teaching because of his score on a “measurement” that its proponent admits bears no relationship to “teacher observables.”

If these bright young persons do their own research in addition to watching commercials, they may conclude that the problem with all those pictures of frog-chasing kids is that NCLB & RAT test for English and math but not for science, so it’s hard to see how any teaching about frogs or planets will “get those test scores raised.” They might conclude that the data, if not the song and dance, suggest that becoming a teacher is like playing high-stakes roulette.

If they watched the 1936 version of Show Boat, they might conclude that the line most apposite to TEACH is Hattie McDaniel’s: “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

[1] No Child Left Behind

[2] RAce to the Top

[3] Yes, those very examples, which are taken as representative of the profession in two of the ads. Raise your hand if your classroom has surround-screen projection and your school offers easy and frequent field-trip access to a wildlife sanctuary for field work.

[4] Science, technology, engineering, mathematics

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