Judge Not The Deserters — Casualties of the Corporate Ed Reform War

Dear Bill and Melinda,

I was driving home after another long day as a teacher when I heard an interview on NPR with Charles Glass, journalist and author of The Deserters, A Hidden History of WWII.  

As I listened intently to Charles bring to life the stories of these deserters – deserters who had entered into a war out of love for their country – I suddenly found myself thinking of the recent videos and letters appearing from teachers who are deserting the children and the craft they so love.

Glass talked about the severe psychological impacts of the war on these soldiers and again, I thought about the severe psychological stress that corporate education reform is placing on teachers.  I know because I am one of them.  I know because many teachers have shared their stories with me.

Teachers around the world feel post traumatic stress caused by living under the oppression and abuse of these reforms.  Terrible stress comes from the oppression we are forced to execute on the children in our classrooms at the threat of losing our jobs.  More stress is caused by evaluation systems and merit pay that require us to compete with our colleagues.  This leaves us with feelings of guilt, much like a soldier would feel when ordered to take a part in “friendly fire”.  

The NPR story was compelling. These men had much in common with teachers who have been on the front lines of your corporate ed reform war — teachers who are resigning, deserting their students and deserting their professions.

  1. All of these men had served on the front lines of combat for a very long period.
  2. The men in this infantry were all “being led from behind”, as Glass says.  Their leaders were inexperienced and didn’t care about the men they were leading.

“Some units had much higher rates [of desertion] than others. The 36th in the battles in France had the highest rate of any division in the American Army. It can’t be accidental that there were junior officers … who were not interested in their men, and not talking to their men, and not looking after their men. [Pvt.] Steve Weiss felt like his captain always led from behind, was never at the front lines, you could never find him, they couldn’t confide in him, they couldn’t ask him for anything, and they felt like they got a raw deal from him.” ~ Charles Glass

3.  Many of these men were witnesses to atrocities to innocent civilian families and young children.

“One soldier who won both the Silver and Bronze Stars for bravery before he deserted, Sgt. Alfred Whitehead, wrote of unexpected brutality combat: “We sometimes accidentally killed whole families while clearing out buildings: you don’t have time to ask who was in the cellars when you tossed hand grenades in them … Sometimes, too, a little girl or boy would come running out with one or both arms blown off, crying hysterically and wild with fear.” ~ Charles Glass, “Judge Not the Deserters”

Teachers, too, are experiencing these effects:

1. Many of the teachers who are resigning have been working on the front lines of the corporate ed reform war for a long time.

2.  Teachers, too, are being led from behind – by you and by these reforms.  It is clear that you are not interested in teachers, and not talking to teachers, and not looking after teachers. It is clear that you always lead from behind and are not at the front lines.  We can never find you, we can’t confide in you,  we can’t ask you for anything, and we feel like our children and teachers get a raw deal from you. This kind of leadership is demoralizing and ineffective, but more than that, it is abusive.

3.  Many teachers are seeing the worst of the abuse – children and teachers suffering  trauma caused by corporate education reform. You may scoff at the comparison, but some of our children and some of our teachers have committed suicide over these reforms.  Many more suffer psychological damage that we simply can’t ignore.

The list of “deserters” on the front lines of this war against corporate education reform is growing, as Elaine Weiss of Huff Post writes in Another Casualty of Excessive Testing: Great Teachers.  

“Those on the front lines of the testing battles, however, have had a hard time being heard. Teachers who object to being judged on the basis of their students’ test scores are labeled as weak or unwilling to be held accountable. Their assertions that test-based evaluations are inaccurate and unreliable are countered with suggestions that there is no better alternative. A pattern has emerged recently, however, that makes it harder to dismiss them. Across the country, strong teachers are sacrificing their jobs — their life’s work — to protect themselves and their students from reforms gone terribly wrong.” ~ Elaine Weiss

Like Glass, I think we must not judge the deserters of the teaching profession.  The psychological stress of this corporate education reform war is too devastating to watch, and too damaging for them to continue to execute, much like the maiming and killing the soldiers witnessed in WWII.

“In May, Brockport, New York teacher Deborah Howard tendered her public resignation letter, expressing frustration at her inability to provide her students with the inspiring, nourishing, life-key-opening sorts of experiences that inspired her to follow in her own teachers’ footsteps. “You see, over the past few years, I have seen young children filled with anxiety, not enthusiasm, over school. When I began teaching in the 1990s, educational stress in my students was virtually non-existent. Since the mid 2000s (think No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top era) a gradual shift has been taking place in the makeup of many children. It seems as if our youngest students, who were once eager to come to school, have been showing signs of depression, anxiety, fear, and humiliation” as testing has taken over.” ~ Elaine Weiss

Please click on the above link to read the rest of these stories on Elaine’s blog.  Do not judge them.

We ask you to write back to us and tell us:

How do you justify your reform policies when these are the terrible effects?

Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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5 Responses to Judge Not The Deserters — Casualties of the Corporate Ed Reform War

  1. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      John, thank you for reblogging our work. Please consider writing your own letter to the Gates.

      Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

  2. Thanks for this insightful connection. The “war at home” manifests, too, I think, in the disillusionment of young “soldiers” — new teachers whose idealism is too-quickly crushed by corporate ed reform.

    On my blog, I shared the story of one such young teacher, including why she ‘deserted’ and what she misses about being in the front lines:

    Part One: http://wp.me/p1ylqw-8D
    Part Two: http://wp.me/p1ylqw-8T

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