Saturday, April 2, 2016

There are no Teachers in Trenches

World War I Trenches
I often see and hear about lessons from the trenches. This metaphor is used in education as much as any other field. And the concern I start with was raised a few years ago in this blog post. The insinuation is that  classrooms, the frontlines of education are very different from the theoretical discussions we have in conferences, academic papers, and administration halls. I agree that the lived experience in education is different, more visceral than an academic debate. What I am calling to change is the language of war (and football) when referring to education.

The war metaphor reminds me of the standup routine by George Carlin- about the way we use language to describe football and baseball. What I would like to suggest is that using war or combat metaphors sets a false sense of our daily lives. Yes, as educators we sometimes struggle, yes we have some difficult days. But, for most educators, life is not threatened, and the sum is more positive than negative. I think that the combat laden language sets up conflict lines. Conflict with whom? Who are we shooting at as we emerge from our trenches? Students? Administrators? Families? The Community? Politicians?

I think that the language of war emphasizes zero sum game thinking and increases teacher loneliness. It sets up a feeling of us vs. them. The war metaphor leads to negativity. This sense of war may very well contribute to teachers dropping out. If you define education as combat eventually the soldiers get tired they want to go home. We might lead a brilliant charge and Teach Like their Hair's on Firebut that cannot last for a full career.

We need better metaphors. Ones that admit the challenges and obstacles but also admits the positive, the possibility of collaboration. Metaphors are powerful in orienting our dispositions and choosing the right ones can change the way we see the world.

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