Saturday, June 16, 2012

Are Compliant Teachers Exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome? - Teacher in a Strange Land - Education Week Teacher

Thanks to Nancy Flanagan at EdWeek's Teacher in a Strange Land for publishing my response to Is Education a Girl Thing on her blog.  The link is below.

Are Compliant Teachers Exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome? - Teacher in a Strange Land - Education Week Teacher


  1. I read this post today and have been pondering it for some time. I also read Nancy Flanagan's blog and it really got me thinking about teaching, teachers, and women.
    I don't know for sure, but it does seem like there are many teachers - both female and male - that just rolling over and accepting the CCSS, RTTT, VAM, and High Stakes Testing. I've actually used the words "good little boys and girls" with my colleagues when I talk about why we should be fighting all of them. I get the glazed looks, the sighs, the phrase "This too shall pass, just like everything else." and the rare raised eyebrow. I haven't encountered a defense of all of this nonsense yet, apart from the "trainers" who come to tell us how wonderful all of this will be for students AND teachers.
    I would suggest, that for some of us, it's more like PTSD. We're shell-shocked right now. We don't know how to handle the anger and frustration. We sort of go through the motions and hope that the next day will be better than the last. I do think that in the near future, we are going to see more and more explosions from those of us on the ground. We are going to get a point where the madness overtakes us and we do start to act.
    There are glimmers of it: OPT OUT comes to mind, as does the Dump Duncan petition, and of course the CTU.
    Of course, the other potential outcome of a PTSD-like syndrome is the self-harm. How many teachers will retire or walk away as soon as possible because of the current state of affairs?
    Either way, it isn't going to be pretty.

  2. Excellent piece overall. But I have a couple of disagreements. First, I'd be wary of Milgram's notion (or the interpretation of his work suggesting) that there is an "evolutionary advantage" to following orders. Such retrofitting of cultural and behavior to the idea of evolution favoring GENES that make people obedient (I'm not sure Milgram actually believed this, by the way. I always thought him too bright to make this particular error), is pretty dicey. It's far more likely that the majority of cultures move in the direction of making the majority of people passive because that most certainly suits the desires of the powerful. They use force and threats of force to keep people from rising up to topple the system. History suggests that such naked use of power works for a while, but eventually there's a tendency in many cases for people to get fed up and rebel.

    The problem is that overthrowing authority doesn't generally lead to something better, as long as what happens is that those who rise up simply replace the old authority. That's one reason why "revolutions" can be reasonably described in most cases as mere turning of the wheel (which of course is what the word derives from), with changing power relations but no true forward movement for people in general.

    My other concern is the idea that there's a universal passivity that has been drilled into women. It certainly seems so from a relatively short-term look at Western (and many non-Western) cultures, but it isn't universal even from historical records over the last century or so, (see Malinowski's studies of the Trobriand Islanders, and Wilhelm Reich's books that comment intriguingly on Malinowski's work and some of its implications for patriarchal, matrilineal, and matriarchal societies - e.g., THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION).

  3. Of course, it suits the purposes of our current patriarchies to ignore historical records that suggest women aren't always quite as passive, frightened, or demure as the dominant culture would prefer to portray things. It's always dangerous to infer too much from K-12 history classes or Hollywood movies (the more recent propensities for Hollywood to try to insert "strong" women into many movies almost certainly reflects their concern with attracting the broadest audiences possible than with the sincere belief that things were necessarily dramatically different in male and female roles and behavior in the past than Hollywood in the previous century generally depicted them to be).

    All that said, I agree that there's a clear "shock and awe" going on, a disaster capitalism effect that has many educators in its grip. There are interesting lessons to be culled from the history of US public education and the role of women therein. And why the education "profession" very much needed unions in order to raise itself out of the pathetic status it had here for several centuries (a status to which the current crop of right wing politicians and for-profit deformers would very much like to return it).

    Yes, it's pretty bloody disappointing to see that a lot of teachers are afraid to stand up, and that some of them may even embrace their oppressors, and that there are many young, would-be educators who are only too happy to swallow the deform bilge, particularly the sort of nonsense we read daily from Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, the Kipp cabal, Arne Duncan, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, ad nauseam, in order to better position themselves to get the tawdry, low-paying, insecure jobs at the charters that in many places are pretty much all that's available.

    Many of these youngsters are, like many of us oldsters in the past, easily convinced that there are a lot of bad teachers out there who are lazy, incompetent, insensitive, etc. And they're not entirely wrong, any more than we were in the '60s and '70s when we started out. We HAD some of those clowns ourselves, even in "good" schools and districts.

    The problem is, of course, that these mostly naive tyros have little or no contact with the high-needs schools and districts in which they're often going to wind up teaching. The "training" they get from Teach For America is woefully inadequate, but then, the training many teachers get in college doesn't prepare them well for the realities of real teaching, even in less demanding positions. Nonetheless, conversations I've had with some TFA folks and other true believers strongly convinces me that they're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land before they start their work, and some continue to do so until they finish their two-year hitch for TFA and then go off to run a charter network or become a policy wonk somewhere for beaucoup bucks.

    Having these folks continually flowing through the deform pipeline helps the deformers pit teacher against teacher, undermine unions, and have educators more concerned about keeping their jobs than in doing the best job possible in the classroom and in fighting for their rights as educators. This can't be allowed to stand.

    1. I appreciate the comprehensive reply.

      Milgram suggested there must be an evolutionary, hereditary explanation for obedience, though he never attempted to figure out the cause and effect of it all. (Or at least I read something by somebody who convinced me Milgram thought this.)

      Your points about passivity in women are well taken. In keeping my article brief enough it would reach an audience, there was no way to explore and discuss this topic comprehensively. I appreciate all you added to the conversation through the comments.

      The bottom line is to recognize the "shock and awe" attack on education. Unions need rebuilt, impoverished schools need real help, and educators need to keep doing the best job possible while advocating for public education.