Matt Damon, Monty Python, & Teacher Powered Schools

Matt Damon, Monty Python, & Teacher Powered Schools

By Megan Olive Hall, 2013 Minnesota State teacher of the Year


Doug Dooher’s media training for Teachers of the Year features Matt Damon in a scathing interview, in which Damon calls our school system “intrinsically paternalistic.”  Well, Matt Damon was calling the supposition that we’d all be better off if we applied a business model to our public school system intrinsically paternalistic, and I agree with that statement – but I also think we can take Matt Damon’s idea one step further.  I would argue that the entire traditional administrative hierarchy is intrinsically paternalistic.  It heralds from the days when women were trusted to teach children but not to run schools; female teaching staff were supervised by male administrators.  We still have more male than female administrators today, even though the profession of education is, overall, overrun with women.

I think this disparity comes from:

  • The lingering gender biases that pervade American society, culture, and economics
  • The pressure on male teachers, especially those wanting families, to earn more money. The only way to earn more money in education is to climb the career ladder to administration.  Ergo, admin gets flooded with men.

I have this radical belief that our schools would be best served if the people making the decisions were the ones teaching our kids.  In the current hierarchy, the larger the decision, the further one must be from the classroom to make it.  Many large-scale decisions, once they trickle down, don’t make sense in the context of daily classroom realities.

A great way to escape nonsensical realities is through sensical nonrealities: movies.  When it comes to film characters, I’d say I most identify with Dennis the Constitutional Peasant from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail.  Well, Dennis and his nameless mother.  You remember the scene where King Arthur comes upon two peasants mucking around in the fields, and they engage him in a political debate?  My favorite line:

Dennis: I’m 37!  I’m not old!

Just kidding.  Although I do like it when Dennis says this.  I just turned 37 and was starting to feel old.  Problem solved by Dennis.  Here is my actual favorite line:

Dennis’s Mother: I didn’t know we had a king.  I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Like Dennis’s mother, I embrace the delusion that I’m working in an autonomous collective.  I’m not – I teach within a very large, very hierarchical school district – my work is in no way autonomous.  By the grace and mystery of the universe, my teacher colleagues and I occasionally effect positive school-wide innovations as a collective.  That’s probably where my delusion originates.

So what if our schools were autonomous collectives, run by teachers?  (I mean, all schools are run by the blood, sweat, and tears of teachers – teachers power all of our schools.  But what if the teachers also called the shots?

Not just charters, but district schools, too?

Like, district schools with unionized teachers?

It turns out that there’s a whole movement dedicated to establishing and supporting teacher-powered schools.  From building legislative coalitions for passing laws and securing funding to spelling out the gritty details of school administration, teachers are organizing to craft autonomous collectives.  I have to admit: the idea of working in a consensus-based school run by equals appeals to my democratic spirit, and it’s nice to know that Dennis, his mom, and I have fellow constitutionalists in education.  Radical delusionists unite!

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