When I first drew this comic in 2009, education
reform as we in the classroom know it now was still a rumor, a whisper that
brought shudders among us during the passing period. Thus, the old strip reflects a long-held tone of annoyance about the day-to-life in the traditional seven-period day. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met a single teacher who has ever liked the seven-period day to begin with.
My colleagues who preceded me seemed to like working with six-hour days (and I remember sitting through a six-class day as a high school freshman in the early ’80s), but the seven-hour variation never quite caught on the same way.
Even then, before all-things-reform came along and transformed the traditional bell schedule into an anachronistic dinosaur, the seven-class day was rife with problems. There were always blood drives, pep sessions, weather delays, guest speakers, and other convocations. With so many classes crammed and wedged into every spare moment, wiggle-room was non-existent. Thus when something had to give because, say, the fog was too thick for an early morning start, something did give…a lot of somethings gave.
As a student, the only thing I remember about the traditional bell schedule were the painfully unstable plastic chairs (it seemed like I always sat in the one that was cracked in the middle, the one that pinched my back every time Mr. Dullard’s monotone sent me lounging back into a dazed sprawl), the long lectures, the notes copied off of overhead projectors, and the bells, bells, and more bells. I remember watching the clock…always watching the clock, counting every second, and praying for any kind of interruption: a sudden convocation, a good fight out in the hallway, a fire, an invasion of Soviet paratroopers, anything.
Before I finally left for college, all my teachers repeated the same mantra: “College is going to be a lot harder than high school. You’ll never survive if you continue with these study habits.”
As far as the study habits go…yeah, they sort of called that one. I learned super-fast to shape up, and I did, but I did so for the strangest reason. First of all, the classes were much more intense, the professors were more prepared for class, and every minute pulsed. Discussion about Anglo-Saxon poetry, a cross section of a reverse-fault line, peer-analysis of a second-draft of a research paper…every instant felt like something was at stake, and every class in college felt like a Regan/Gorbachev summit. But I was able to handle it; actually, I was able to thrive. The kid who barely graduated from high school went off to college and made the dean’s list every semester he was there.
Why? The simple answer was time. I had time to recharge between classes, time to study, time to read, time to write, time to enjoy fifteen minutes of college life, time to eat lunch and have a conversation with my friends. My professors had time to plan, time to research, time to really know their stuff. Despite all the warnings of my high school teachers, when I walked back to my dorm after my first day of college (Spanish at 9AM, American Lit at noon, and US history at 2PM) I wasn’t dreading anything. My thoughts went something like: “Damn! This shit’s easy!”
This is where I come back to the new version of the old comic strip. When the reformers invaded, shouting cries such as “No Child Left Behind!” They didn’t really “reform” a damn thing; they never have. Slashing budgets to the point where schools actually abandoned alternative block and trimester schedules, reverting back to the drudgery of seven classes and fifteen bells didn’t save a single child. Pavlov had returned to us with his raw meat, and we started drooling once again.
Throwing more tests at the kids, and throwing “improved” teacher evaluation “instruments” at us isn’t school reform. School reform is about transforming schools from places where we keep kids “busy” all day into havens where we give kids incredible challenges and then tell them to go out and solve them. School reform happened to me twenty-four years ago. I lived real reform the instant I walked into Dr. Musick’s Spanish class, and I’m a product of how it really works.
So what are we to make of a “reform” movement which only crams more tasks onto the same old schedule? The one Harper Lee called “The Dewey Decimal System”? If the reformers demand more testing, more “accountability” without allowing us to make the innovative, radical transformations we need so we can fairly “compete” with the charters and online schools, then what do they really want? What is their real plan?