Observations of a Long-haul Teacher

The Game of School attacks American schools “as they now are” and proposes serious, radical change to enable students to discover the joy and value of growing and learning as a life-long activity for its own sake. Colman McCarthy of The Washington Post says: “His ideas for reform—fresh, relevant and experience-based—brightly contrast with the sleepy conventional theories that pour out of education commissions and task forces . . . In a bracing departure from most education books, Tripp includes student voices. He quotes from and refers liberally to the course evaluations of his students and also from his alumni survey. The customers, in other words, have their say.” Publishers Weekly says: “Tripp, a realist and a radical . . . makes the very basic point that education must involve students; it should give them the tools—and the inclination—to use reason, not just rote memory . . . Tripp's impassioned and authoritative voice deserves to be heard.” In all the cacophony about schools, the voices of classroom teachers and students are seldom heard. The Game of School goes a long way toward correcting that deficiency. Written by a regular, long-haul teacher, it features the perceptions and opinions of students over a three-decade period quoted throughout.

Excerpt from chapter 4 . . .

During my final year of teaching this word was accidentally coined by one of my students and me. In a class discussion one day, at the same moment that I said the word authority Melanie Kammerling said power. And what came out of our mouths was Authower! Authower is a watchword. The meaning is as darkly negative as it sounds. Authower refers to the abuse of authority and power by those in positions of leadership. It is everywhere--in politics, in bureaucracies, in the business world, in schools. Lord Acton was right about power corrupting, even in a democratic society. And in a democracy the only defense against Authower is for those affected by it to learn how to counter and limit it, to make it accountable to them. Authority and power should be no more than are necessary to perform the legitimate tasks of governance, including education. Teachers and administrators too frequently embody Authower. There simply are too many teachers (and administrators) who are petty and sometimes downright mean. When teachers set rigid rules that fail to account for student foible and error, and penalize students unfairly and unnecessarily, that is Authower. When teachers do not demonstrate respect for the students as people, belittling them and their ideas, that is Authower. When teachers get angry and intolerant if students do not do assigned work, failing to take into account that students have many needs, concerns and frustrations that may, in their minds, take precedence over school work, that is Authower. When teachers get unnecessarily angry when students are late to class, or turn work in late, and become punitive and sarcastic, that is Authower. In these kinds of situations, teachers are acting not out of concern for students but out of an often unrecognized, unacknowledged need to be in charge. These actions reveal a deep level of insecurity and anger, which takes itself out in harsh, counterproductive behavior with kids.

by Robert Tripp