In 1999 I quit teaching. No leave of absence, no early retirement option, no backup plan. I had just understood, finally on a deep nearly visceral level that I could not be part of a system that does not love children. A system that is built within a framework of methodic, codified accountability. Never a free minute, for student or teacher. Never an unsupervised minute, for student or teacher. Never a benefit of the doubt; always mistrust.
If we didn’t know where you were every minute, if we couldn’t watch and control your every movement, we assumed you were at best slouching off but probably doing something immoral and illegal.
They tend to be the same thing in the USA, immoral and illegal.
So, when I sat alone in my office with A___ — a student who shall remain anonymous because – yes – this is how conditioned I am to being suspected — I took risks.
One day A___ said, Ms. Haidri, tell me. If someone like me was God, the way Jesus was, how would I know? And I said that when a Swami was asked, Are you God? he answered, Yes. And so are you. The difference between us is that I know it and you doubt it.
One day he said, Ms. Haidri, tell me. How come there’re no black teachers in this school? And I said, Because people like you haven’t yet grown up to become them.
One day he said, Ms. Haidri, have you ever been to Hawaii? I paused for a second, in which I made up my mind that it was true, and said, No, but I’m going to move there.
I left teaching in a system that would not permit me to spend time with a student on his own terms, on his own level, and to show him love. I left teaching in a system that put me in charge of standardized testing to measure the little brains coming in and the little brains going out to see if they achieved the appropriate reading score to within a tenth of grade level.
I left teaching because schools were factories with rotation belts on which students were not assembled, but disassembled. Don’t think, don’t touch, don’t speak, sit up and shut up – your grade depends on it.
I moved to Hawaii. It was the equivalent of jumping off a cliff. If the land you inhabit is crawling with vermin or on fire or somehow threatening to destroy you, that is all that is left to do: jump off a cliff.
The thing about jumping off a cliff is, you don’t fall forever. You always land. In this case I landed on the youngest land on earth, the currently under formation Big Island.
I wandered the flank of a volcano for two years, freelancing reading diagnosis and remediation, being poet-in-the-schools, teaching university students who didn’t own a pair of hard-soled shoes. Then my money ran out and I moved to what was always going to be my last frontier, a place I always knew was more beautiful than Hawaii: Norway.
Within weeks I was offered a job teaching, a few blocks from the house I bought over the internet, and I took it.
Do you want to know why I took the job teaching? Partly because the building had a glass roof and red brick on the interior of the walls, lending it the atmosphere of a greenhouse more than an institution; mostly because the tables I passed on my way to the interview were strewn with rough drafts of handwritten essay exams in which students explored their ideas for page after page. It was not just Piaget’s Formal Operational Stage, it was the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy. It was a system that put the students in charge of exploring ideas. It was also a system in which hordes of students that spring failed the Norwegian exam because they didn’t understand the satire of a piece of journalism proposing removal of one of the Americas because who needs two Americas (read: get rid of Nynorsk). I loved a school system that took the comprehension and cognitive development of youth so seriously that it would follow this up by adding ‘understanding irony’ to the national curriculum.
That was 2001, and I daresay the system was already in flux. There were a few halcyon years of blissful discussions and explorations of ideas, and then things started to change. They took away our curriculum and grading standards and said, spend your teaching time figuring out local curriculum and grading standards. They took away our study time and said, spend your teaching time reporting on the progress and whereabouts of fifteen homeroom students. They took away our preparation time and said, lock yourself into a 27.5 hour work schedule. They took away our pedagogy and said, give these nationalized, computerized multiple choice tests to your students during weeks 35-37.
It was a few years before I, as a foreigner, caught on to what was really happening. We were being steered by conservative freaking politicians who were over in the USA being suckered by the ginormous educational assessment industry that makes megabucks on turning schools into factories of accountability. They were coming back to Norway all gooey eyed and inspired, waving statistics, scales, norms and grade equivalent scores.
They coalesced into what is called KS.
I want KS bureaucrats to go back to their bean counting someplace else and leave the young minds of Norway alone. I want the good old State of Norway to take back control of education.
I do not want politicians making school curriculums, but that is probably too much to ask for at this point. So, I am on strike for one simple reason: KS is killing the beauty that was the Norwegian school system, a system where learning was not always measurable, but clearly felt. KS is killing us through formalities of accountability and reckoning that do not a good school make. They do not make a place where students are loved, but where minutes are ticked off and everyone can’t wait to get out of there.
Norway, we can’t let that happen. Please support the striking teachers, August 2014.