Prison, Greenhouse, or Waterboarding

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Common Core State Standards, Grade 8, Reading Standards for Informational Text

I’m working on teaching this and other standards to my junior highers. Reading and thinking critically is imperative, yet yesterday I had an interesting “uncritical” reading moment.

I read a blog post by John Spencer called “What if School Isn’t a Prison?” He said, instead of comparing his schooling to a prison, as he usually does, he was challenged to use the metaphor of a greenhouse — some crap was inevitable, but there was also sunlight and fresh water. Definitely a rosier metaphor than prison for what school was for many of us and is for today’s students.

As I read it, I thought, Hmmm…maybe…that’s nice.

Then I read the first comment at the bottom by Tom Panarese:

What is this? I can’t retweet this! I can’t quote this in my efforts to show the other teacher bloggers that they need to risk their livelihoods and families in order to rebel against a 19th Century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children into an early grave! Terrible. F.

Whoa! It took me back. It was like a slap up-side my head. Read! Denise, it yelled to me. Critical reading alert: Evaluate the argument…assess the reasoning…relevant and sufficient evidence?

I had to stop and re-read it. He’s right. Instead of taking the blog post at face value, why didn’t I read it critically and thoughtfully the first time? Why didn’t I react like I really felt? I’m not sure why, because I really resonated more with what Tom said. I want to “risk my livelihood…in order to rebel against a 19th century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children.”

His challenge was good for at least two people. John, the author of the original post, responded back with another comment. He began rethinking and questioning his own post. Tom got him to think critically, and he appreciated the conversation.

I am another person who was helped by Tom’s comment. His challenging response changed me. It made me a better reader. It changed my attitude, at least for a day. Yesterday I felt a little snarkier than usual. I was a little more willing to risk being wrong while doing right by my students.

The next time I hope right away I can read more critically. I don’t want to be afraid to open up a conversation if something troubles me on such an important topic as educational reform.

I also hope others will speak up when I say something that begs a challenge.

For the sake of the students, perhaps, we must.

3 thoughts on “Prison, Greenhouse, or Waterboarding

  1. What’s funny is that my comment was completely sarcastic and I was actually pointing out how spot-on John’s post was. One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy (and it’s a running joke between me and John) is the rhetoric used by some people in the edublogging community.

    Very often I hear about how school is a prison, how teachers steal dreams, how I am forcing students to do what they do not want to do, how in order to save them I need to “opt out” of testing and not do the job I’ve been asked to do. They’re all passionate points that the people saying them seem to believe, but my cynical mind sees a lot of desire to get reposted, retweeted, and ultimately profit off of the sentiment (after all, those books don’t sell themselves–oh, and speaking of which, let me plug my blog:

    John’s argument was quite nuanced, to be honest, and I really agreed with it. But I tend to be the resident smart-ass, so I thought I’d be snarky.

  2. Tom,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it, and now you’ve given me more to ponder!

    I love being in over my head!

    Thanks, and have a snarky day,


  3. And another reading lesson for today!

    RL.8.6. Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

    P.S. I still learned the lesson about reading critically and opening troubling conversations. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

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