In World War II, Germany’s Nazi regime owed much of its power and domination to a reign of abject and merciless terror. It was accepted policy to enter into a defeated town or village, round up the entire population to witness a wholesale slaughter of town leaders and “undesirables.” This was done to set the tone and show the survivors the consequences for defying the Reich. The Nazi's understood this: When you can strike terror into the hearts of many, you can get them to do most anything you want.
The remarkable American film, Sophie’s Choice, illustrated some of the heartless and cold blooded terrorist techniques the Nazi’s used to crush the will of people. In the movie, Sophie (Meryl Streep) reveals to her lover the tragic episode of the choice between her children in Auschwitz. Upon arrival, Sophie was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would proceed to the labor camp. To avoid having both children killed, she chose Jan (Adrian Kaltika), her son, to be sent to the children's camp, and her daughter, Eva (Jennifer Lawn), to be sent to her death in Crematorium Two. This is an unbelievably heartbreaking decision of such a magnitude there are no words to describe it. This is a decision no human being should ever have to face and one that rattles our sensibilities to their very core. This episode reaffirms how the Nazi's understood that when you can strike terror into the hearts of many, you can get them to do most anything you want.
Here is where this conversation will likely get tough and upset many.
The realities of today’s education landscape include excessive testing, NCLB, RttT, public humiliation, VAM rankings, no LIFO, and no tenure. The consequences associated with going against these realities invoke increasing degrees of censure including Federal punishments ranging from schools, districts, and entire states being labeled as failures, school closures, and now public humiliation.
Combined, all of these sanctions and punishments strike terror into the hearts of teachers. Teacher's are scrambling to find ways to not be noticed. We are desperate to both do the right thing by our students AND survive the gauntlet laid down by the Federal Department of Education and its Status Quo reform policies of NCLB, RttT, public humiliation, VAM rankings, no LIFO, and no tenure.
Teacher all across the nation lament the pressure to raise sore, the pressure to forego teaching for test prep, the damage they see year after year as kids are pushed through the assembly line of the classroom experiences. Today's school experience has been institutionally demoted to not much more than a test data mill.
In private, teachers wish to rise up and fight the oppressive regime that imposes such harsh sanctions for failing or being otherwise undesirable to the Status Quo. In private, teachers wish they had options.
Then they remember what happened to the Teachers in Wisconsin, or they consider the 50% impact student test scores have on teachers in states like Florida that has already been conquered and dominated by the reformers. And quickly, teachers retreat hoping to remain under the radar of sanctions. Quickly the thoughts turn to ways to keep their VAM scores up to avoid the public tarring and feathering experienced by Pascale Mauclair after the New York Post declared her “The city’s worst teacher” based on wonky VAM scores. The Federal government has, in essence, championed a system and dynamic that facilitates rounding up undesirables, parading them into the town square and then make a public example out of them.
So here is the modern teacher’s “Sophie’s Choice.” When it comes down to a choice between providing a home for our own kids and keeping food on our own tables by dancing at the end of the reform puppeteers stings, caving to the pressure of foregoing teaching for test prep, and push kids through the test data mill assembly line regardless of real learning, most will choose the dance and sacrifice their students to the requirements of the regime.
In reality, neither the security of career and home nor the well being of the students should be on the sacrificial block. But when the choice given to teachers is between placating the test mill regime and sacrificing kids' learning, or teach the way it is meant to be and excite the hearts and minds of kids at the risk of kids' scores dropping and probable sanctions and/or dismissal, education places teachers squarely in the immoral position of making a modern parallel to Sophie’s Choice.