These words were bellowed to the crowd by Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator after he graphically destroyed every opponent that was put before him in the arena. His words, aimed at the audience, were meant to show his disgust at what was sacrificed at the expense of their entertainment.
I can’t help but think that if I close my eyes, and imagine a voice with a little less bass, that these same words could be spoken by many educators across the country. You see, I feel like many educators feel as if they are jumping through hoops simply to entertain those that hold the purse strings and make the rules. This is the time of year when many educators are preparing their students for a test, administering a test, or simply trying to get their students back into a routine since testing has taken up so much of their valuable time.
Like Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator, educators do not really have a choice. They must put on a show. Preparing their students for states tests is not an option for them. While their lives don’t depend on the results, their jobs often do. And unfortunately, so does their self-esteem.
This is not to imply that teachers aren’t successfully preparing their students for the tests that they must take each year. Because they are. In fact, many teachers have become quite skilled at this art. But at what cost? Does a high testscore mean that a student is ready and prepared for the world they are about to encounter? Or is a high test score often nothing more than just a number? I submit that oftentimes it is the latter. I truly believe that life’s most important tests do not require a pencil.
If you have not seen Gladiator then you may not want to continue reading. For those that have, I contend that the end of the movie has many parallels to the teaching profession today. In the final scene, Russell Crowe’s character is forced to fight the emperor to the death. Ultimately, he defeats the emperor, but the battle ends up costing him his life. The ultimate sacrifice for entertaining the Colosseum.
We are sending our teachers down a similar path. Forcing them to spend all of their time and energy in order to prepare their students for state tests. As Peter DeWitt wrote in his article “Because It’s on the Test” found on Finding Common Ground
The more we make the tests the center of our conversation, and the reason we teach curriculum, the more the tests become the case for teaching and learning, and good pedagogy gets shoved to some dark corner.
Teachers are being forced to sacrifice something that they cherish deeply. The ability to use the tools and skills that they have spent years and hours honing. They see their students’ eyes glaze over when they are forced to prepare them for just one more test and it is driving them crazy.
So I’ll ask one last time for those that may have some influence on the rules of the game.
Are you not entertained?
Have you seen enough?
I hope that the answer is yes. Because there are a lot of folks out there who are ready to start doing what they do best. And it isn’t spending all of their time preparing kids for a test.
What they are best at is much more difficult than that. You see, they are experts at preparing kids for life and they are just dying to start. Please give them the green light. I promise they won’t let you down.