Playing too much defense?
Sometimes teachers get defensive, but please hear me out before getting defensive about it…
The other day I posted a comic drawn by Matt Groening on the SOSMTM Facebook page, and some people took offense to it because of the words describing the teacher.
Obviously my intention was not to offend anybody; I just thought it was an over-exaggerated example of how much teachers need to deal with in their classes and how overwhelming it can be. I don’t believe it was Groening’s intention to offend anybody either; however, Groening is a master of satire, and he has satirized the public education system time and again.
In fact, before the Simpsons hit it big, Groening wrote a book titled School is Hell way back in 1987, well before the many attacks on public education and public educators had begun. In it, he satirizes school from his point of view as a student beginning with pre-school and continuing all the way through grad school.
Whether one agrees with all of his scathing, brutally honest (or perhaps just brutal to some) observations throughout the book, it’s nearly impossible not to identify with some of it because we were all students at one point. While I’m not defending Groening’s somewhat stereotypical outlook on school, students, and teachers, I am not offended by it either. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not.
Perhaps the fact I’ve seen several episodes of The Simpsons that have pointed out some of the absurdities of public education, such as the over-reliance on test scores and NCLB, has helped me to appreciate Groening’s sense of humor regarding the school system. The episode “How the Test Was Won” is a great example.
But back to my point about teachers being defensive. I understand everybody has a different sense of humor, and what is funny to one person might seem offensive to another. I am not criticizing anybody who felt offended by the cartoon, but some of the comments made me think: have teachers become programmed to become overly defensive because of the endless stream of attacks on our profession? Even worse, have we begun to lose our sense of humor?
While the Groening cartoon doesn’t bother me, I become defensive every time my father mentions the Chicago Tribune. After years of anti-teacher, anti-union articles being printed in the Tribune, I vowed never to read it again at one point last year. My father has had the same morning routine of reading the paper while he drinks his coffee in the morning for as long as I can remember, and I doubt that anything will ever happen to change that. But every time he starts to tell me about something he read in the Tribune–whether it be good or bad–my defense mechanisms kick into high gear, and I start telling him again how much it bothers me that he reads that “paper.” I mean he could be telling me about an article that said teachers should be paid millions of dollars a year, and I would find something wrong with it. That’s just how defensive I get.
What scares me, though, is that is our defensiveness might possibly be causing us to lose our sense of humor. I know one thing that gets me through each day is sharing a few laughs here and there, and sometimes laughing is all one can do to stay sane when it comes to some of the nonsense that gets thrown our way. On the other hand, I also know that those laughs are harder to come by every day because of the massive amount of pressure put on teachers.
Is it that defensiveness that caused some people to find the Groening comic offensive instead of getting a chuckle out of it? Here is a sampling of some of the comments regarding the comic:
This is poor classroom management. What teacher sits in his/her desk and would allow this to happen? I am so tired of the media portraying educators as idiots…I have been teaching for 22 years and I would never allow this to happen…
NOT IN MY CLASSROOM, MATT!
Sorry, but I find it offensive. It needs to go!
For sure, I am no longer a Groening fan. My science classes of 36 don’t resemble this at all, and I don’t want anyone to have the impression that they might.
Is this a case of defensiveness kicking in and a sense of humor being kicked out? Or is the comic just not that funny? Or maybe it is quite offensive, and I’m just not seeing it.
Whatever the case, I always find it fascinating to see how many different reactions the same picture can evoke. This definitely does tell us one thing about education as summed up so eloquently in the following comment:
If the arts are so unimportant and should be phased out to make room for the “truly important” subjects- the ones we test, why are these comics evoking such a meaningful and strong response in this group? Could it be that the arts fulfill a basic need and achieve something that bubbles don’t understand?
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the comments that follow it can sometimes tell us just as much.