Saturday, June 29, 2013
What Would I Do Now?
When I was in college (1962-1966), the world seemed a lot more stable than it does now. Oh, sure, there was the Cold War, ever threatening to go Hot, and never more so than in the fall of 1962, my freshman year--the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ever the optimist, I did my homework those October nights, never believing catastrophe would actually occur. (One sure measure of the profound depths of my naivete.)
But except for the threat of thermonuclear war (!!), the world I was preparing to enter seemed to me a pretty predictable place. My father was teaching at Hiram College; my grandfather (Dad's father-in-law) had been a professor, too, only recently retired. Their professional lives--a generation apart--were not all that different, one from the other.
And when I began teaching at Aurora Middle School (its name in the fall of 1966), my life was not any different from what my mother's had been--she, too, had been a secondary school English teacher. The technology available to me in my classroom was not much different from what I had experienced as a student at Hiram High School, with the possible exception of the overhead projector--not the kind with a computer on the other end (there were no personal computers), the kind on which you would lay a transparency to show a class. This is what I mean when I say things seemed ... stable.
Throughout the first couple of decades of my teaching career things didn't really change all that much. Oh, we got videotape after a while--some laser discs. But I didn't use computers in the classroom until the last few years of my public school career--the mid-1990s. By the time I finished my career at Western Reserve Academy, though (2011), newer technology was everywhere. Students with laptops, Internet in the classrooms, whiteboards, digital projectors, electronic essays, Moodle (it was like having my filing cabinet online) ... astonishing stuff.
An example: One year my WRA students read a Hemingway story ("The Light of the World"); in it, the characters talk about a boxing match--recalling a moment when Stanley Ketchel (they call him "Steve") knocked down Jack Johnson. And via YouTube I could show the students that exact moment from the 1909 bout! It seemed ... magical. (Wanna see it? Link)
But other aspects of my career became more odious as the years went on--and most odious of all? Standardized testing and the egregious effects it had (and has--even more so) on the quality of school life. I felt myself becoming more and more not an educator but a trainer--a test-preparation officer. When I saw where all was headed, I retired from public schools the first second I was eligible--in January 1997. The job I had loved was transforming into a chore, into something mindless and merciless. Academic freedom vanished; standardization/homogenization reigned. And reigns.
So ... if I were in college now, there is no way I would prepare for a teaching career.
And what would I do instead? Well, throughout most of my life journalism has been an attractive option. I have freelanced since the early 1980s--op-ed pieces, book reviews, features. And I've always thought that it was something else I could have done instead of teach. Write for a newspaper, a magazine.
Journalism, too, has completely transformed since my boyhood when the Sunday Plain Dealer seemed to weigh fifty pounds, and it took all day to read it. Now, newspapers and magazines are falling like passenger pigeons. The Sunday paper's so light it floats to the door when the carrier throws it. The Internet has made everyone a writer, a critic (like a book? don't like it? put your thoughts on Amazon; no credentials required, just online access). Blogs clog the Web; we have more tweets than a rain forest; Facebook has made it impossible for you to escape your past. (A FB friend from years ago once reminded me of something stupid and cruel I'd done in 1961. That will keep you humble!)
So ... today ... I couldn't teach. Traditional journalism is all but gone. (The Sunday Plain Dealer has one of the few remaining set of book-review pages in the country; I've been writing for them since 1999. But it's all tenuous--fragile. It could be gone any old day.) I was/am too ugly to be on TV, couldn't handle law school (I once applied, was admitted to CWRU, changed my mind before going), too bad at math for any numbers-related profession ...
So what could I do instead?
"Fries with that?"