The Apple versus the Gavel: the “Us” versus “Them” Approach in Education

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a new application (app) she found on iTunes called iAdvocate.  The purpose of this app is “to share and develop specific strategies with parents for working collaboratively with a school team to improve their children’s education.  iAdvocate uses problem-based learning strategies, simulations, and provides contextual access resources to build parental advocacy skills and knowledge.”  As one reviewer pointed out, the app lacks content that offers mediating techniques and instead includes statements and situations that are confrontational.  I wonder if the app makers are suggesting that educators are not advocates of students.


(above-screenshot from the iAdvocate app)

The iAdvocate app is just one example of how the media deals with teachers in an adversarial fashion.  A recent Time magazine cover and article stirred much controversy and response among the K-12 educational community.  The image of a gavel crushing an apple (law versus teacher) is just another example of opposition—an “us” versus “them” approach.  The article insinuates that the educational system is failing students, especially poor and minority students, because of bad teachers instead of the real structural inequities that those living in poverty face on a daily basis.  These socio-economic inequalities are often and conveniently left out of these discussions about effective teaching and student performance.  No profession is without its bad apples; this includes the teaching profession.  However, to insinuate that K-12 educators do not advocate for children, especially those students who are in need, is itself a contentious claim.  The reason why educators respond so strongly to this statement is because most teachers choose this profession not for monetary rewards or benefits, but for other non-material reasons: helping students, working in a community, and providing a social good.  Poll after poll and year after year shows that teachers are motivated by intrinsic factors.  It is no reason that educators react strongly to insidious implications that teachers do not advocate for children or are motivated by pure self-interest.


An assistant principal from Virginia responded to the Time magazine article and cover and points out that “75 percent of American parents said they were satisfied with the quality of education their child was receiving in public schools.”  You can read her entire letter here.  The positives of public education are not highlighted by the media.  Instead, like the iAdvocate app, the editors of Time magazine decided to take an “us” versus “them” approach and exclude supportive voices.

This confrontational approach runs counter to the values of our society.  Civics classes used to teach the first words of our social compact, our Constitution.  This foundational document begins with three words that were considered revolutionary at the time: “We the People.”  I say “used to teach” because social studies, as a discipline, is increasingly being removed from elementary classrooms, replaced by mathematics and English preparation.  Removing civics from a course of study also removes a civil discussion about relevant and salient societal issues, such as improving education.  There is no doubt that the education profession must improve in order to respond to the ever-changing ways that students learn.  However, instead of using a gavel, perhaps an intelligent discussion would be more productive.

The loss of civil discourse can be seen in various sectors of our society, such as arguing in government and talk shows.  The loss of civility extends to the media’s treatment of public school education.  Vilifying educators, who do advocate for students, is a consequence of the loss of civil discourse and civility.  As we enter a holiday season, during which many cultures celebrate and gives thanks, let us remember the core values of our foundation: to work together to provide for union.  “We” collaborate as a community to provide the best education that we are able to for our students.  As a school community, we have much for which to be thankful: teachers who encourage students to learn and do their best, parents who listen to our educators and have meaningful dialogue with them, students who want to learn and wish to do their best, support staff who always looks out for the safety and well-being of students, and community members who want to partner with us to provide better programs for our students.

Over the years, we have been able to work together in the best interests of our students, and I am truly thankful to be part of a school community that values collaboration.  Happy Holidays to you and your family.