I’ve seen these signs all around, and I vehemently disagree with the implicit totalitarianism.
Teachers repost the signs to communicate that their job is to inspire young minds to grow but teachers want their students to know that they have responsibility in this journey as well. It mirrors the “you can lead a horse to water…” argument, which in and of itself is a bit disappointing. After an attempt at sentiment, these signs normally make some reference to not being a democracy. While this is the linchpin, it is not central to my disagreement.
First, these signs imply that students need to sit down and take all the great things their teachers will impart on them and that teachers are the one with all of the knowledge. If only students would accept what they are trying to give them, they would learn and grow. It implies that it is filling of a pail, not the lighting of a match. In this way, students are actually complacent and passive in their education, despite the duelling message of student responsibility.
This leads me to my second problem with these signs: the responsibility part. Students are implored to be open and communicate with their teachers: just admit it, just ask, accept the consequences or the grade. In the wording, one would be led to believe students do not do these things. That somehow students are so apathetic in our classrooms that they show up each day and don’t care, don’t bother to participate. In the wording, no space is given in for risk taking or problem solving. Children are still implored to do as they are told. The responsibility part comes at the mercy of the teacher. It silences their voice. It implies there is only one way to deal with these situations -my way or the highway. And it tells them to leave the excuses at the door. The fact that this is the opening message immediately divides teacher and student and acts to deconstruct the very relationships we seek to build. From the moment a student walks in the
bdoor, the implicit message is that we don’t believe them, that they are
always lying. If we expect them to lie, we only ever hear lies. Imagine a world where kids are honest and want to be respected and heard…and ask yourself if that is your classroom. If a child had walked in with this as their homework and said their dog had eaten it, would you believe them?
What happens when the classroom environments we create are predicated on the idea that children always lie to us. Or worse, one where we never assume they are truthful. What does this dynamic do to the relationships we purport to want to build? Does it become a self fulfilling prophecy? Do children learn to lie because it is what is expected? I don’t actually think it does. I think more what happens is it creates a relationships of fear to talk to us and a belief of their inferiority. The divide between us deepens.
In addition, when we assume apathy, it relieves of us the responsibility to be reflective and examine whether what we are doing actually does inspire. We shut off our open mindedness and accept that our routines are effective. We stop being critically receptive to alternative possibilities. We place blame on the children…the ones we want to inspire, yet believe aren’t capable of being inspired.
Lastly, when we state that we are not a democracy, we limit student voice and choice in the classroom. If we are not a democracy, we beg our students to be apathetic, to accept that we are the supreme ruler and the dictator. In authoritarian classrooms, teachers value order and control over personal freedom. In a totalitarian classroom, teachers believe students should be totally subject to an absolute state authority. In both cases, we create a classroom where children are passive in their education. No fires are lit. No growth is encouraged. In this way, learning is viewed as being given, not earned. Students in these classrooms fail to participate, because they are not valued.
So, while we may believe the messages of these signs is “help me help you” they really boil down to the type of attitude which is antithetic to what we actually want out of our students: a love and desire to learn and grow.