We are being mandated to death. A mandate is an official order, a commission to do something, a law. I am tired of official orders and of commissions and of the law. I need the mandate paradigm to be shifted now.
I am sitting in front of a blank screen on this Sunday evening – almost Monday morning – just thinking about the mandates we educators are under. We have mandates from our school, our departments, our district, our state, and, yes, from the government. We have mandates to test our young children and mandates to write up goals on our own evaluations based on those tests. We have mandates to enter data every month, every week, every day, and every period of every day. We have mandates to meet in data teams to manipulate and further extrapolate more data from the data. We educators are being mandated to death.
Then I began thinking about the mandates our children are under. They are mandated to attend school and to pursue an education. They are mandated to take evaluative and standardized tests. Then they are mandated to sit in review sessions if they do not pass the tests. They are mandated to practice taking tests so that they can pass the end of the year mandated standardized test. They are mandated to be obedient and compliant and they are mandated to dress and act according to school, district, state, and federal codes. They are mandated to sit in meetings if they do not pass the tests. They are mandated to be college and career ready. And they are mandated to take tests to see if they are college and career ready before, during, and after they are in college or on a career path. Our students are being mandated to death.
I remember when the new mandate paradigm first appeared in my school. I was told in no uncertain terms that our reading/writing program could no longer exist and that we had to adopt a comprehensive school curriculum where all grades and all subjects would all be doing the same thing at the same time according to the new curriculum. This was my first mandate and it broke my heart because it destroyed years of successful creative and innovative curricular work. Each year since, the mandate paradigm has gotten more and more onerous and unmanageable. It has a life of its own and, little by little, has sucked all the joy out of teaching and learning. Both teachers and learners are being hammered into empty mandated shells that have no resemblance to what we were meant to be.
Tonight I listened to the radio show The War Report on Public Education hosted by Dr. James Avington Miller Jr., co-hosted by Anthony Cody with special guest Dr. Yong Zhao. It was a great show talking about the authoritarian management in our schools and the lack of innovation and creativity. At one point Dr. Zhao mentioned that the mandates we are under should be the “mandates of the heart.” That one phrase stuck a deep cord in my own heart and has been pulling at me all night. After the show, I posted on Twitter and FaceBook that I want my students and grand children to have mandates from their own hearts not mandates from the ed monsters. Because that is what these pushers of mandates have become – they have become educational monsters destroying the very love of learning in our children and the love of teaching in our teachers.
If I am teaching according to a mandate from my own heart, I am teaching with love and compassion, excellence and creativity. If students are learning according to a mandate from their own heart, they are learning with joy and spontaneity, comprehensiveness and inquiry. Do we still need guidelines and common goals? Yes. Do we still need rules and discipline? Yes. But those mandates must take second stage to the primary goal of education – teaching in such a way that each and every student is afforded an education that will enable that student to be a life long learner and a productive and happy member of society. And if we follow the mandates of our hearts first – both teacher and student will be filled with the joy that only comes from true teaching and true learning. As Aristotle taught almost 2400 years ago, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” So, I think it is time that we act first and foremost by being true to the mandates of and from our hearts before the mandates of the ed monsters finally destroy us all.