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Slice of Life 3: I am Harrison Bergeron

With the popularity of dystopian literature, I guess it’s only fitting that I find myself sometimes wondering if I do, in fact, life in a dystopian society. And I’m not even referring to the 1984-esque Patriot Act or the Generation Like of Brave New World. And though there are times I wonder if high school isn’t some slightly tamer version of The Hunger Games, that’s not what I’m talking about either.

No, what I’m living in is something more like the world of “Harrison Bergeron.”

In the Vonnegut story, society has become “equal” by giving any person with any kind of advantage or gift a “handicap.” A graceful dancer has weights attached to her ankles. A beautiful or handsome person wears an ugly mask. And anyone with an above average IQ hears a loud buzzing in his ear to prevent him from forming a coherent thought. In other words, to achieve equality, the government brings everyone down to the same level, for same means equal.

With the current test environment, I wonder if forcing students to take the same assessment isn’t also a type of handicap (does this make Arne Duncan the Handicapper General?). Standardized testing, after all, ignores the varied ways students learn and reduces their “knowledge” to a common denominator: a single, high-stakes test. And speaking of “high stakes,” I wonder if the stress caused by such tests aren’t weighing even our brightest students down, effectively keeping that elegant dancer from taking flight.

At lunch the other day, I joked that I live in Harrison Bergeron’s world, but for a different reason. Between my students at school and my three boys at home, I don’t think a minute goes by without some sort of interruption. The moment I start to form any semblance of a coherent thought, I’m interrupted. Even now, as I try to write this post, I’ve been interrupted by the following questions (courtesy of my 9-, 7-, and 4-year-olds):

“Can I have a drink?”

“Can you help me put on my shirt?”

“Mooommmy! When is dinner ready? I’m starving!”

“Mommy, look at the puppet I made.”

“Mommy, look at this picture of Yoda I drew.”

“Ow! Mommy, Matthew hit me!”

“Can you check my homework?”

“Is this right? I don’t understand.”

“So, Mommy, who do you think would win? Darth Vader or Loki?”

“Who do you think would win: Hulk or Superman?”

“Mommy, can we work on my shamrock project?”

“Wait, Mommy, does this have peanuts?”

“Mommy, do you know where X is?”

“Mommy, do you know where Y is?”

“Mommy, have you seen my Z?”

“Mommy, is dinner ready yet?”

When I was in grad school, one of my professors told us that in the course of a single school day, a teacher has between 500-600 unique interactions with students, and that of those, at least half are questions (“Can I go to the bathroom?”, “Is this on the test?”, “Did we have homework?”, “Wait, there was homework?!”, “Is there any extra credit?”, “Look, it’s snowing!” “Do you think we’ll get out early?”).

Now, to be honest, grad school was more than 14 years ago and my Googling hasn’t yielded any updated answer about this number. But based on my years in the classroom so far, I would say that 300+ questions a day seems right (that’s a question every 90 seconds in a 7-hour day).

With constant interruptions over the course of the day—in school and at home—I empathize with the characters in “Harrison Bergeron,” who can’t seem to keep their thoughts together. More and more, I’ve been finding myself walking into rooms or down the hallway only to ask myself what it was I was looking for. So I guess this gets me back to my point from yesterday’s post about time… it’s not just more time I need, I realize, it’s more quiet time.

What could I do with some quiet time? I’d like to think about it more, but unfortunately, I’ve got dinner to make. *Sigh*


slice of lifeThis post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 200 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

3 Comments

  1. What a lovely thoughtful post. Having retired after over 30 years of teaching, with 15 years of teaching gr. 3 with Ontario’s gr. assessment every year, – your questioning of standardized tests really hit me. The politics of teaching (which this testing really is) got too much and I had had enough.

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    • Thanks for your comment. With 30 years of teaching, I’m sure there were many more wonderful memories than test-filled ones. I hope to make it as long! 🙂

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    • I can so relate to your post and I really appreciate what you shared. I love my job and I love my students but at any one time I can have 4 different students asking me questions or telling me a story. I agree with your point of how important quiet time is and how difficult it is too find sometimes.

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