The great Afro-Carribean philosopher CLR James once observed that the capitalist system is based on a division between those who plan, and those of us whose job it is to carry out their plans. People in the planning classes often don’t know a damn thing about what it’s like to actually do the work, and hence they tend to plan the system right into the ground, intentionally or unintentionally. This seems to be what is happening right now to public education.
James also observed that the workers often rebel against the plan, and change it around so that it actually works; if we didn’t disobey orders, society would collapse under the weight of our administrators’ brilliant ideas. This kind of grassroots refusal is also beginning to happen in public education – just look at the MAP test boycott.
The photo to the left is a parody of the anti-teacher joke “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I’ve always hated this joke. I mean, don’t we want to encourage those who excel at various human endeavors to teach others to do the same things? Shouldn’t poets be teaching poetry? Shouldn’t scientists be training new scientists? Shouldn’t carpenters be mentoring new carpenters? Isn’t it a mark of greatness in any activity when you are able to explain what you are doing clearly to others who want to learn to do it too?
When people say that great practitioners of an art form, discipline, or trade cannot teach it, they are assuming that the knowledge involved in that field is necessarily elite, inaccessible, and somehow innate, like a God-given talent, instead of something that can be widely taught to anyone who is interested in participating. This just serves to keep certain skilled trades artificially exclusive, in the hands of (mostly white male) cliques who pass on access only to their fathers, brothers, inlaws, or friends. It is a subtle accommodation to a mafioso conception of class and power.
In other words, this joke is not just an attack on teachers, but it is an attack on the very concept of democracy itself.
So is the idea that politicians who know nothing about teaching should be able to decide the future of our youth.