A great article by Miya Tokumitsu (‘In the name of love‘ Jacobin January 2014 and republished in Slate 16 January 2014) is doing the rounds of social media, and it’s timely that Crikey has just done a short feature on the brilliant Sarah Kendzior who has a similar schtick.
All this puts me in mind of one of the best articles I’ve ever read in Harper’s. As far as I know, it’s only available in the print edition but long ago somebody lovingly typed it up and republished it online at which point I copied it to a document and stored it on my hard drive. I’m now releasing it back into the web. Enjoy!
Crap shoot: Everyone loses when politics is a game
by Garret Keizer (Harper’s, February 2006)
I’m sure I was only supposed to be motivated, but I fear that I may accidentally have been enlightened, that day some years ago when my fellow teachers and I were treated to a videotaped lecture by the then reigning “National Teacher of the Year”. None of us thought to ask how such a distinction had been or could be determined. It was enough to know that he was in a different league from ours. He had recently shaken hands with the President of the United States.
Squeezed into our student’s grubby desks, the underpaid servants of a grossly underpaid working-class community, we listened to his depiction of the future with our eyes uplifted to the screen. Eventually there were going to be only two kinds of people: those who deal in information and those who serve their needs. In such a society, many of the facts and crafts we taught would be obsolete. Teaching students to write essays was irrelevant, we were told, when what they needed to know was how to write good memos. As befitting an oracle, the alpha teacher delivered his news in a tone of gleeful authority. There were but two choices open to us: pointless defiance of the inevitable and creative acceptance of the brave new world (the one that Thomas Friedman has since announced is flat). Teachers who chose the latter would endeavor to make their better students into players, with the possible reward of becoming players themselves. Like the man on the screen.
I forget if “players” was the word he used, but it was implicit in all he had to say. It has become increasingly explicit in the American vernacular. The internet was still a novelty then, so the chosen few already “dealing in information” would not have been able to tally the more than five million hits that presently appear for a phrase like “key players,” among which you can learn who really counts, counted, or will count in such diverse domains as “the left’s war against conservative judges,” the global economy, the Kuomintang, World War III (as predicted in the bible), and the cheese industry.
But my colleagues and I had no trouble getting the point. It wasn’t necessary to hear the word; we knew the game. In one form or another, we had been teaching it for years. The touted “promise of education” always comes down to a veiled threat: those who fail to be players in the classroom will never amount to players later on. Yes, they also serve who only stand and wait, but mostly they serve burgers.
Or listen to motivational speeches while squeezed into grubby desks, as the case may be. There was the rub, and the National Teacher of the Year and the patrons for whom he spoke knew just how to rub it in. What message could have moved us more, with our HoHum State diplomas and our Payless shoes, that the promise that we could be players too?