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Local

Text of John Dryden's letter to his former students

To my students,

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you, my students, for the time we shared together in the classroom wrestling with ideas, some big … some, not so big. For those of you who were willing to allow me to challenge your base assumptions, I salute you.

Critical thinking can be difficult, sometimes earth- shattering, but it is never boring. We made a meal of it.

After twenty-one years and something like four thousand students (either enlightened or polluted, depending on who you talk to) I had to step aside before I was finished. I did an unthinkable thing. I walked away from ninety students in the middle of a conversation. We were just hitting our stride when we smacked right into a wall.

I have had my arguments with the school administrators over the years. I have clawed and thrashed my way into creating enough space to teach the difficult material that most teachers know well enough not to teach.

The fight was continuous, but important. In order to create critical thinkers, we must question everything. We have to be critical. We have to ask why and how do you know?

The battles were bloody, but I won them (-- we won them) … until I didn’t. In the end, some school administrators who are unaccountable to anyone, and who know little about teaching and virtually nothing about kids, decided they could put a muzzle on me once and for all.

After I taught what they considered an “unauthorized” lesson that didn’t use school board-approved sources, these professional bean counters decided to suspend me for three days without pay. I could have lived with that. What I couldn’t put up with was what they were doing you.

I would be required, in future lessons, to only use school board-approved sources for all my classes. I could live with the humiliation of getting the approval of a bean counter, but I couldn’t live with using only school board-approved sources … because there aren’t any … just the textbook.

So, for those of you who were there in the end, you will remember our last few days together. I wrote the required textbook pages on the whiteboard, and the questions you were to answer, and I used all the educational jargon that the bean counters like: “exit slip” and “facilitator” and “formative assessment”, and you hated it and I hated it even more. The bean counters loved it.

That was going to be the rest of my professional teaching career … the rest of our time together. We were going to do that every day until I exploded, or you rioted (with good reason) or I quit.

This was not a policy created with the students’ best interests in mind. One cannot create critical thinkers if the instructor is muzzled and stuffed into a small cage. This was a power-play devised by bean counters, designed to convince me it was time to move on.

So I did. I had to do it for you. You see, this “Board approved source” nonsense doesn’t apply to all the teachers. It only applied to me.

What I understood was that you would not be allowed to take on meaningful material while I was in the classroom. It was not an easy decision, and I have agonized over it, but I believe it was the right one.

The bean counters and I made a deal; the bean counters would drop the suspension and I would retire at the end of the month. The bean counters put me on paid administrative leave immediately. At first they told me I would have a last day. I needed it.

I wanted to explain that this was about the bean counters and it had nothing to do with you. I wanted to tell you to be brave and big and bold and to fear only ignorance and indifference. I wanted to tell you that you shouldn’t take your anger out on the next person who walked into the classroom; he, or she, was going to walk into a train wreck and try to pick up the pieces.

I got a call at 6:15 in the morning of what was to be my last day telling me I was not allowed to come in to school. This ensured you and I would have no closure and I could offer no explanation. I was told I could not speak to you (or my fellow teachers) or step on District Property until after October 31.

My Batavia Public School District e-mail account was cut off within hours. The bean counters told the newspaper they were very surprised I decided to “retire”. They told you I had called in sick and I would be back the next day … and, that I was not in trouble. Bean counters are like that.

I had a good run. Teaching was the most fulfilling and rewarding task I have ever undertaken. I regret nothing except that the bean counters are in charge.

So, I’m going to run for the Batavia Board of Education next April, and if I win a seat, I’m going to make bean soup. I’m going to fight and claw and thrash out space for teachers to teach. You are too important to me to stop fighting.

If I’ve learned anything, in all my years in the classroom, I’ve learned that you young and glorious people are our wealth and our magic. I am forever grateful for our time together. It was an honor I did not deserve, but was blessed to have.

You can reach me at muleboy59@yahoo.com.

Cheers, and allow me one last thought, though it is not my own: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Audre Lorde

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