This post is also crossposted on Medium.
A year ago, John T. McCrann wrote an excellent piece called “Can We Stop Saying That Teachers Work ‘In the Trenches’?" arguing that the language of war is not suited to the work of teaching and learning.
Sometimes, this language is used to paint the student — or at least his or her attitude — as the enemy. The Power of ICU, a school-wide initiative that advocates many praiseworthy practices, nonetheless prides itself in “defeating student apathy.”
How can we defeat something that we ourselves have played a role in causing? And even if we could, how does defeating things align with our mission as educators of children?
More often, it’s not the kid or their attitudes that are the adversary. It’s the enemy at the gates, on the other side of no-man’s land, we fear: the people who don’t understand or appreciate us as educators, who interfere with our work. Inside the metaphor of trench warfare, our attitude toward them alternates between defensiveness and fearful compliance, keeping our heads low. Over time, some of us steel our nerves against the proverbial bomb dropping, lulling ourselves into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.
Still others conceive of their careers as waging war on injustice, poverty, or inequity, both inside and outside of school. When students come to us wounded, we want to stand up for them, to destroy the enemy that has dealt them these blows. We want to equip them, giving them weapons with which to defend themselves and others — either that, or help them take cover, offering our little cinder-block bomb shelter as a refuge from pain.
Certainly at least some of these are praiseworthy aims. But what are the consequences of conceiving of education in militaristic terms?