Letter to the Editor: Students are Owed Nothing in the Business of ‘Factory Education’

| July 3, 2014

As a classroom instructor, I believe students are owed nothing; therefore, they shouldn’t be shocked when their graduation does not fulfill their American dream. I am seeing more failure because we, as instructors, lack a sense of professional honesty with our charges.

No matter how sterile and whitewashed the business of “factory education” becomes, I will always believe that I, as the classroom teacher, have the power and responsibility to speak into the lives of those students placed into my care. Who else says this stuff? Man, it sounds stupid if it weren’t from a place of love and concern. Please don’t mistake my words as bigoted or apathetic.

I believe that the words that I speak directly connect my students to heaven or to hell. It is the very challenge that I cope with for a 180 or so days a school year, some payment required. I think that is why I choose to float this piece out there, because maybe there is someone who could use some hope for this year’s grads. I promise that these lessons have been taught by me and many others.

Things I say on the last day:

The world that you now live in has told you that all unsolicited advice is tied to a guilt trip, or that it’s meant to take you farther from your wants and needs. I don’t believe that, The only reason that I am happy is because I had the courage to open my life to someone outside of my locus of control to give me a perspective that would have taken me thirty years to see on my own.

I sometimes think that my teacher talk can sound callous, opinionated, or even trite, but now I know the truth. All people spend a number of years in an unliberated mind; those years we are, as I perceive, unwilling to learn life’s toughest lesson. Yet, to be liberated by their
own efforts and to educate oneself, is arguably the greatest accomplishment one can give. I believe my job is not to demonstrate what I can do for you, but rather what you can do for yourself under my care and guidance. We are, unfortunately, seeing more failure because we lack a sense of professional honesty with our charges.

My friends, you are owed nothing; therefore, don’t be shocked when your graduation does not fulfill your American dream. We are beginning to see more dissatisfaction with our American system because our America has changed without our permission. It is not my job to change it back, but rather to bring a generation to adaptation. I see more educational causalities along my journey than I would really like to admit to an audience of non-professionals. Try then to imagine that when I originally spoke these words that I changed someone’s life by changing their mind about their self-perception.

Thanks again for all your efforts this school year, and I hope that we can always remain inside this relationship of respect and mentorship that I have with all of you. Remember, no matter how important you are to the world or to someone else, I will always have been your teacher. I have former students that are more successful than me by society’s standards, but I take a level of pride in that. Be ready to say, “Hey” to me in the halls or the community. At worst, be ready to give me the cool nod of the head.

Know this: I believe that if you can’t be nice to me, then I worry that you may not be nice to the world that doesn’t know you. How else will they see your passion and your potential if you’re not being nice? I don’t want to always be nice to you, but I am. I’m nice or “cool” to you for a greater purpose. I put aside the greater problems and concerns of my own life to demonstrate to you my passion to improve and live a life of purpose. What else should your education be good for if you don’t live for a higher purpose? My hope is that you will build and grow strength within others as I have attempted to do for you. If you can do that, then you will find living a life of passion will give you comfort, no matter where you live.

It is much harder now to know one’s life purpose with the onslaught of media competing for all of our attention in so many ways, but one can see more clearly with a clear focus on their education. I know it sounds like I just busted a bunch of fortune cookies open in here, but I or we as teachers are the last of our kind. We root for you to make decisions that will lead to a greater good in you before it’s too late. Kindness matters most and the images that you project to the greater world are like a mirror for your true intensions. Your true identity no longer remains a mystery as the greater web may play havoc with your self-identity; know that before you make a post.

Some of you will be missed more than others, mostly because those people are more aggressive in seeking their happiness. I will always like those people most, sorry. That’s the truth! They go out of their way to be pleasant, kind, and more importantly, focused on a good result of themselves through their work. If any one of you is to be successful in any of life’s disciplines, then you will have adapted to the same tactics that your teachers and I tried to get you to employ. The world will love you more if you are happy, so get happy. Don’t wait for others to give your sense of purpose or happiness; you may have to wait a long time for someone else’s generosity.

Work hard this summer, no matter what you do. Do that thing with the intention and care that you may have wanted to put into a school assignment which you wanted to get an ‘A’ on. In time, your work will produce a calling on your life. The inspiration of that guiding voice will come to you when it knows you can handle the complexities of your everyday life. What’s our boy Drake say? – “Started from the bottom” We all start from the bottom, without pride in our place; for a time, you can never climb the ladder.

When many of you are working in the service industry this summer, recognize that kindness, respect, and selflessness are qualities that begat great leadership no matter the profession. Heads up for the challenge; your calling will bury itself from your mind’s eye until it knows you’re ready. When it hits, it will create such a quickening in your spirit as it now has a purpose that is undeniable.

All this because you care about your education? Would you dare to believe it with me?

Good luck and have a great summer!

~Robert Whitlaw

Robert Whitlaw has been in education for the past 20 years in both private and public education. He has a masters in curriculum and instruction as well as a principal certificate.

Previous submissions by Robert Whitlaw:

Ba Humbug!

I Had a Dream About the Coming School Year

The Graduation Speech I Wish I Could Give

A Disillusioned Optimist, Dreamer, Felon

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Category: Letter to the Editor, Opinion