A Blog About School

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A couple of months ago, I came across A Blog About School, written by parent and law professor, Chris Liebig. It has quickly become one of my favorite education blogs. For me, personally, Chris serves as a powerful antidote to the some of the irrational parents I have had to deal with this year–a refreshing reminder that the great majority of parents not only care about their kids, they also care about what is right and good for kids in general. At the end of the day, it’s not just  about grades and test scores–and, as Chris points out, our current emphasis on “accountability” and “performance” has serious implications for participatory democracy. In short, he gets it.

Although he sometimes blogs about local issues, he also writes about the sheer madness that sometimes passes for “school reform.” Occasionally, the two intersect. One of his recent posts along these lines caught my attention. In it, he wrote that “Iowa City has a reputation as an artsy, intellectual, socially liberal college town; the Advocate even named it America’s third most gay-friendly city. So why do so many features of our public schools seem like they could have been designed by the most authoritarian, anti-intellectual, corporate-captive elements of America’s political spectrum?”

The policies that have drawn his ire of late are severely shortened recesses and the requirement that children eat lunch while bundled up for Iowa’s winter weather–to maximize playtime during the too-short recess, of course. And all of this to free up more time for drill-and-kill test prep.

In the same post, Chris pointed out that he was not “sure exactly what ‘progressive’ means, especially in the context of education,” to which I responded that progressivism has always contained a strand of technocracy–a abiding faith in the ability of science to improve our world. More to the point, though, given the recent thrust of his posts, I also asked him what he thought about Sudbury schools, which have really captured my interest of late.

I honestly don’t know as much about them as I should, but I appreciate Chris’ thoughtful response. His understanding and mine seem to match, and like most of his posts, it’s worth reading. It’s a careful and nuanced view of a school environment that would seem the antithesis of the “authoritarian” policies he so despises, but one that comes with its own set of challenges. I look forward to his forthcoming second post of Sudbury schools.

Bogged Down

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Like most teachers, I suppose, I seem to be drowning in work lately. I’ve mostly been grading essays and meeting with students in preparation of research, but I hope to post some thoughts here soon.

Welcome to Indie Teacher

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I teach history and coach in an independent secondary school in the South, and although I have blogged before, this is my first foray into the education blogosphere. (As I side note, I hereby resolve to steadfastly avoid the word “blogosphere” henceforth.)

I envision this blog primarily as a place where I can a) reflect on history, on teaching, and on independent school education; and b) connect with other educators, thus informally advancing my own professional development.

I first considered starting this blog over the summer, while reading Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. Palmer’s book had been assigned as “Faculty Summer Reading” by my school’s administration, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that although I didn’t necessarily agree with everything I read, it was full of ideas worth engaging. During our faculty orientation discussions, I realized just how much I’d missed the unfettered exchange of ideas that I enjoyed during college and graduate school. Too often, I think, this sort of communication is limited by institutional power dynamics, by the compartmentalized nature of secondary education, and (perhaps most often) by the sheer exhaustion that we teachers struggle with on a daily basis.

For me, this orientation discussion was refreshing. This sort of thing happens occasionally in passing conversations with colleagues, but there is rarely–at my school at least–any sustained dialogue about what it means to teach, why we do it, or how we can get better at it, especially while maintaining our collective sanity. (This is to say nothing of serious intellectual conversations about our respective disciplines.) Although I hope that I can help to change the “local culture” where I work, I also hope that this blog can become a place where teachers can swap their own ideas about such topics.

So, now that you know a bit about me and why I started this blog, you may be asking: why is it called Indie Teacher? Well, I can assure you it’s not because I’m always up-to-date on the indie rock scene. In fact, I tend to dismiss guys with asymmetrical hair and skinny jeans, regardless of what their music may sound like. (Yes, in fact, I do realize what I’m missing. I just don’t care that much.) Rather, I chose the name because I teach in independent schools and I tend to have a bit of an independent streak. I cherish the autonomy I’m given in the classroom, although sometimes I wonder if I’m a little too independent even for an independent school. More on this later.