Dog and Pony Show

I read this piece at the Dean’s luncheon during my time in the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project. It’s a critique on education reform.

“Dog and Pony Show”

I was invited to the show; told to sit down and listen and watch as they paraded Learning in front of me in chains; displayed Learning like King Kong – some sort of foreign wonder that had been captured and domesticated to serve our purposes.

“This is what we do” they told me, “This is how it is.”

And I wanted to shout “No! that’s not how it is!” and it can’t be that way because Learning is a wild animal, and when you put it in a cage and make students look at it through the safety of bars and plate glass, the students yawn, and they poke it with sticks, and they say “it’s sleeping” or “it’s walking around in circles. Is that all it does?” But that is all it does in captivity: sleep and pace. And sometimes we demean Learning even further by teaching it to do silly tricks, like sit. And stay. And roll over.

“Good boy, Learning, good boy.”

We make it obedient and tame; we neuter Learning and make it sterile, unable to give birth to new generations, unable to breed with other species. But we brush its coat and bathe it and feed it scientifically formulated pellets, so we can put it on display and analyze it for flaws in shows where the best example of sterile, inbred Learning wins a ribbon and prize money; the audience clamors and fawns. All the while, the streets and alleys and forests outside the school are filled with mutts and strays – Learning that can’t be caught; Learning that dies in captivity, shunned and put down because it’s ugly and dirty and rabid.

I’m taken into a back room, given a whip and chair and made to tame Learning before I can let my students see it…take the wild out of the beast and put my head in its mouth, hoping it won’t bite down in retaliation for my disrespect. The other trainers threaten me:

“You won’t get a ribbon” they say;
and “Don’t you want them to praise you?”;
and “Look at the fine coat on my Learning! And she’s so well behaved! Yours could be too.”

Mine could be, too. Tame and pretty and sterile. I’ll be the zookeeper, the lion tamer, the human plate glass window keeping Learning at arm’s length from the public.

Or I’ll be the dissenter, dragging wild Learning in from the cold and setting it loose in a crowded room to bite and bark and spread its disease.

I can chain Learning to a post, subdue it with spray bottles and rolled up newspaper…

or I can go into the back alleys, and take in the strays…

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