A reader responds to a post about Rollerball and Brave New World and what we learn from dystopian fiction.
It is useful, I find, to step away from informational text and to view a society that operates on totally different principles. We can do that to some extent by reading history, but the contrast becomes even sharper when you explore a fictional society through the eyes of a deeply insightful writer.
Sometimes we can learn more about society by reading fiction than by reading informational text, even sociology. This is why we read classics: They teach us about ourselves and our society. They are classics because they have stood the test of time. You read them, and they read you.
This reader understands that we live in a world today where there are forces out to destroy the basic educational values that he (and many of us) hold dear. He sees the anti-intellectual and anti-educational and anti-child policies proclaimed as “reform” and then praised by the media. He gives us much to think about, and he needs to be reminded that he is not alone.
|I have written many reflections on these issues over the years, but have shared very few of them. It seems appropriate to share this one now though since I am not alone in my thoughts….sorry for the length- not sure how to put a doc in here.Parallels to DystopiaI was never a big science fiction fan, but Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 keeps creeping into my thoughts as of late. I read Bradbury’s classic as a teenager and was bothered by his futuristic society where books are outlawed and television has replaced independent thinking. People in this Bradburian society are numb to the basic human need to connect with each other, and blind to the beauty of nature. I remember thinking how unrealistic and ridiculous the plot was. I’m not so sure about that anymore.
The book’s main character is a fireman named Guy Montag, whose job is to burn the forbidden books when they are discovered. One day he responds to an alarm where he finds an old woman who would rather be burned alive with her beloved books than give them up. He wonders why, if books are so bad, she would be willing to sacrifice her life for them. His curiosity compels him to steal a book from her house. Unable to forget about the woman, he soon questions the value of his profession and his blind loyalty to the rules. Eventually, Montag becomes a hunted fugitive and finds refuge with a small group of people committed to saving the written word.
Lately I can’t help but wonder just how far we are from Bradbury’s dystopian society where free thought is not only discouraged, but actively suppressed. I still have the freedom to put these thoughts on paper, but I do so with the knowledge that asking questions and voicing dissent is considered by many to be troublesome. People rely on their televisions for information, unaware or indifferent to the fact that they are inundated with controlled messages in the form of mainstream news. The internet, despite its distortions, still offers us a means to seek the truth through research. Sadly, most people show little desire to delve deeper than the surface of an issue. They seem content to accept simplistic, unsubstantiated claims as gospel truth, suggesting that reality and fiction are closer than we believe.
As a teacher, I notice many parallels between Bradbury’s book and current education policies. I have watched the damaging waves of education reform surge forward like a tsunami, reforming nothing but destroying everything. Misguided solutions are sold to the public as vital to our economic survival, and the only way to fix a troubled education system. Concerned citizens are asked to trust and embrace these changes while the media dutifully reinforce the message. The reliability of both the data and the methods, wielded by policy makers with their own agendas, is rarely questioned. What’s even worse is, as the collateral damage to our most vulnerable children becomes increasingly apparent, it is ignored. There is no outrage from the citizenry, no demand for fairness and compassion. The only stirrings are the stifled protests of a few brave souls. Speaking out against authority has become a rebellious act of heresy.
As a result, I find myself questioning the value of what I do, much like Montag did. My students, surrounded by poverty, violence, neglect and other social ills, desperately need critical thinking skills. Their survival depends on their ability to question and challenge the circumstances that shape their living conditions in order to visualize a better world. They need to be creative problem solvers who understand the importance of their role in humanity. It’s my role to foster these skills.
When I first realized that test prep was the guiding force behind every decision our schools were making, I did not remain silent. Naively, I believed I could join the professional organizations that influence policy and reason with them. I volunteered for dozens of committees and became involved in the local and state teachers’ union. I wrote letters, sent emails, spoke at public hearings, and met with elected officials in an attempt to educate those whose misguided views were destroying the profession I love. In the meantime, however, I did far too much of what I was told to do in my classroom, even though I knew I could, and should, give my students much more.
I tried to rationalize my compliance by saying I was following directives, much like Montag was told to burn books. But I am awake enough to know that what’s happening is morally wrong, and I have crossed the line where I can simply dismiss it as part of the job. My guilt over inaction heavily outweighs my fear of risk. So I find myself becoming increasingly vocal and resistant in an attempt to advocate for my students and my profession. Some of my colleagues wonder why I want to make waves by asking questions. They tell me we cannot change things. Others join me in my outrage. But most sit by silently and fearfully, waiting for someone to give them a voice.
Montag found refuge with the “book people” while he witnessed the demise of his whole world. Likewise, I need to connect with others who want to tell the truth about the loss of humanity and reason in our schools.
I don’t know if there is a happy ending to this story. Maybe someday we can build a new and better education system from the ruins that inevitably lay ahead. All I know is that I want to be a part of that.
Another teacher writes to say: You are not alone:
I remember raising the issue of ALEC and the new VAM procedure instituted by our district at a faculty meeting last year. Out of the 50+ people present only 3 came up to me and asked me for more information. The rest seemed to think I was a conspiracy theory nut. Most had no idea what I was talking about and challenged me with the perennial “this too will pass, like all empty-headed reforms. When I pointed out that NCLB had not passed on they were silent and walked away.
I thought that I would be safe discussing these issues in a professional manner and by backing my arguments up with detailed research. Now, I’m not so naive. After years of sitting on committees and being asked to participate in district initiatives I found myself suddenly isolated and passed over and I realized that by talking about the reforms and questioning their validity I had developed a reputation as a troublemaker. With people being let go right and left I understand the fear and reticence but I don’t understand the total passivity.
My biggest fear is that teachers will be caught completely unawares and when the firings start decimating our ranks it will be too late to do much of anything to challenge the system. I have been fascinated by how people whom I respect as professionals with good common sense have jumped on the bandwagon and become cheerleaders for reforms that are clearly designed to eliminate them altogether.
Keep up the good fight! Every one of us counts at this point and more than we know.