Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

“Man Bites Dog, Dog Eats Homework.”

Here in Chicago we’re in the middle of — and hopefully approaching a just conclusion to — a city-wide public school-teacher strike that has been debated back and forth by advocates from both sides and pundits in the media. Every so often, that debate has even been about the issues in play and not the relative levels of greed, selfishness, and evil to be found in the teachers or civil servants; every so often it’s been clear that what’s being examined is America’s dysfunctional relationship with education and its unhealthy relationship with money.

I don’t have an in-depth analysis of everything involved here, and I’m not an unbiased observer. Nine times out of ten I’m going to side with teachers over corporate executives because no matter what corporations may have done to improve the quality of my life teachers were essential in helping me figure out how and why I wanted to live that life in the first place. Teachers existed before money and teachers are still necessary in parts of the world where there’s nothing worth starting a business over. I don’t believe in demonizing every soldier or every police officer for the actions of the brutal in their ranks and I can’t understand why it’s become more acceptable to do the same thing to teachers because some of them happen to be complete crap at the job.

I do know that one of the issues at the heart of the dispute is the idea that you can assess the worth of a teacher through the lumbering sabermetrics of test scores and cold data evaluations, that you can then extrapolate those results into the worth of schools entirely, and then use that steel-jacketed assessment to have the school forced up against the wall and executed. You can then release strongly worded press statements declaring that the failure of the schools has led to the failure of the neighborhoods those schools used to serve and therefore the money must be diverted to creating greater security in those neighborhoods through an increasingly militarized constabulary, through state-of-the-art prisons.

You can do those things. If you want. If you stand to profit from those things. You can do them.

Almost exactly two years ago a Los Angeles man named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. committed suicide because a major metropolitan newspaper decided to assess his quality using the same models being pushed forth by city administrators in Chicago today; because that newspaper’s methodology found this man lacking. I wrote a play for Too Much Light about the incident and as I read columnists attempting to justify the practice I can’t help but think about him again, can’t help but remember that there are real human costs that come from treating humans as math problems. From treating humans as a thing to be solved.

Man Bites Dog, Dog Eats Homework
© 2010 Bilal Dardai

The prop for this piece is a series of front pages from the Los Angeles Times, taped together so that they gradually accordion out across the stage. KURT starts on stage right.

KC: Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., a 39 year-old fifth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary in South Los Angeles, was found dead this week.

CAITLIN enters, unfolds the page further.

KC: Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr.
CS: A 39 year-old fifth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
KC: Was found dead this week.
CS: At the bottom of a ravine.
KC: Of an apparent suicide.

PHIL enters, unfolds the page further.

KC: Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr.
CS: A 39 year-old fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
PR: Was found dead this week.
KC: At the bottom of a ravine.
CS: Of an apparent suicide.
PR: His co-workers said he had been “distraught” and “despondent.”

MEGAN enters, unfolds the page further.

KC: Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr.
CS: A 39 year-old fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
PR: Was found dead this week.
MM: At the bottom of a ravine.
KC: Of an apparent suicide.
CS: His co-workers said he had been “distraught” and “despondent.”
PR: After a report in which the Los Angeles Times had assigned rankings to city teachers based on their students’ test scores.
MM: And had rated him a “less effective” teacher than his peers.

BILAL enters, unfolds the page further.

KC: Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr.
CS: A 39 year-old fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
PR: Had nearly perfect attendance over 14 years on the job.
MM: Organized volleyball games and other outings for the faculty.
BD: Reached out to students from the poorest areas of his community.
KC: Tutored them after school and on weekends.
CS: Encouraged them to go to college.
PR: Told them to listen to their parents.
MM: Convinced them not to join gangs.
BD: Was found dead this week.
KC: At the bottom of a ravine.
CS: Of an apparent suicide.
PR: His co-workers said he had been “distraught” and “despondent.”
MM: After a report in which the Los Angeles Times had assigned rankings to city teachers based on their students’ test scores.
BD: And had rated him a “less effective” teacher than his peers.

Pause. Everybody folds their pages back into the first one as they speak and gather around KURT.

BD: Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. is remembered by faculty and former students as.
MM: “Well-respected.”
PR: “Dedicated.”
CS: “Passionate about his mission.”
KC: “A caring teacher who put his students first.”
CS: His co-workers said he had been.
PR: “Distraught” and “despondent.”
MM: After a report in which.
BD: The Los Angeles Times.
MM: Had assigned rankings to city teachers.
PR: Based on their students’ test scores.
CS: And didn’t bother to learn anything else about those teachers.
KC: Until after they’d killed themselves.

CURTAIN

 

Current Music: Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago (Multiple Personality Disorder Version)”

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2012 by in Education, Neo-Futurists, News of the World, Plays, Politics, Theatre.
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