I Have Only One Thing to Say to Jeff Bliss, the Kid Who Criticized His Teacher on YouTube

 

As a nationally-recognized educator, who takes his profession very seriously, Nicholas Ferroni goes on record as supporting Jeff Bliss’ rant against his teacher.

Recently, Jeff Bliss, a student at Duncanville High School, became famous overnight when his rant criticizing his teacher was posted on YouTube and went viral. This young man is being championed for having the courage to point out what many people feel are the obvious shortcomings of public education and teachers. As a nationally recognized teacher who will be on next week’s cover of Blindfold, a socially conscious magazine, for being an innovative and outspoken advocate for education and educators, and who takes his profession very seriously, I have only one thing to say about Jeff Bliss and his now historic rant: Bravo, Jeff. You are exactly the type of student that I, and many educators, hope to have in class, and you stated what so many have been saying:

“You want kids to come in your class? You want them to get excited? You got to come in here and you got to make him excited for this. You want a kid to change and start doing better? You got to touch his frickin’ heart.”

I know what you might be thinking: Why would I applaud a student who confronted and criticized his teacher? Because I, and many other teachers who take our jobs and  relationships with our students very seriously, know that Jeff is not indirectly criticizing all educators, not even close. He is addressing the obvious and neither I, nor any passionate educator, takes his speech as an attack upon all teachers, just those who don’t belong in education, which I still believe to be the minority.

In a previous blog I did for Huffington Post, I addressed the sad truth behind the new teacher evaluation programs that state after state seem to be adopting in order to help identify good and bad teachers, and how these incredibly inaccurate evaluations, that are being forced upon public schools by both the state and federal governments as a result of lobbying, are going to destroy the most important role of an educator. These unfair evaluations, along with the national push for more standardized testing, will ultimately turn teachers into examiners and not nurturers (which is by the far the first and most important role an educator can play). Jeff  poetically states the truth: you must first touch students hearts before they will ever allow you to educate their minds.

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I have recently been criticized for my blogs and people have argued that I am not a social worker, but a history teacher, and that, by being a nurturer first, I am doing my students a disservice in school and life. I, and my former students and my colleagues throughout the world, would overwhelmingly disagree with their argument. All teachers are social workers first because we are dealing with social beings. In a perfect world, where every student comes from a loving and supportive home and feels confident and secure, teachers wouldn’t have to be as concerned with focusing on a student’s social needs, but that’s not realistic. Even I, who had a very loving and supportive family, still needed the love and support of my kindergarten teacher to help build my confidence and security when I was at a very insecure and awkward age.

The evaluations and standardized testing which provide absolutely nothing besides the collection of data (and from which no studies have even proven are correlated to success in college or life) will only force teachers to disregard the social needs of students in order to focus on test preparation and standardized tests. I have no doubt that many politicians and self-proclaimed educational reformers, such as Governor Christie and Michelle Rhee, will use this student and his video to only further push their political and irrational educational agendas by making people believe that this criticized teacher is the norm and not the exception, which is not the case.

We have to allow teachers to focus more on developing and nurturing young minds, instead of taking the human relationship out of the equation by forcing teachers to not care about a child as a person, but solely as a test score.

If anything, this incredible speech by this amazing young man is exactly why, as a nation, we have to allow teachers to focus more on developing and nurturing young minds instead of taking the human relationship out of the equation by forcing teachers to not care about a child as a person, but solely as a test score. In my eight years as a teacher, I have had dozens of former students contact me after graduation and not a single one of them contacted me to thank me for helping them prepare for standardized tests, but to thank me for preparing them for life and for caring about them when they were at their weakest and most insecure.

To Jeff Bliss: You are an incredible young man who is the type of student that I, and so many educators, hope to have in the classroom every year. You want to learn; you want to grow and evolve, and you desperately want someone to nurture and develop all of the amazing qualities you obviously have. I’m sorry that it got to the point where you had to speak out, but I am very happy that you did. You have shown many people throughout America exactly why it is imperative that we do not destroy the most important role that a teacher has and the very reason I became a teacher: to be a nurturer of human beings.

 

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About Nicholas Ferroni

Nicholas Ferroni is a host, writer, blogger, historistan, educator and activist, and proud Rutgers alum. Find him at Huffington Post, or on Twitter @NicholasFerroni

Comments

  1. In 1961 I taught the way this kid would like and it was great. In 1970, after a four year absence, I taught like this and it was okay but I got in a bit of trouble. In 1989, after a dozen years of absence, I taught the way this barricaded teacher taught because otherwise I would have been fired. I WAS fired for turning in a kid who showed signs of sexual abuse. In 2003 after a LONG time away I was told to teach this packet/workshop way. The students refused to do anything any adult wanted them to do. A boy, this one an Irish boy, made the same speech as this boy in the video did and walked out. In another month I made the same speech and walked out. IT’S IN THE SYSTEM! And it’s destroying us. ALL.

    “Prairie Mary”

    • Nicholas says:

      Mary, my heart truly goes out to you. Three amazing colleagues of mine resigned because they refused to implement policies that they knew were harmful to students. Only in education, are the people who have to implement the bad policies, and not the people who make the bad policies, blamed when those policies fail. You will not be the last teacher to leave education because of the system. Your students, and the education world, are worse off for not having you.

  2. Been there. Had to justify my teaching style when other teachers complained that I was doing more than was required of me and making them “look bad” created a hostile work environment. Wasn’t much better when I complained that one of my fellow teachers was hitting her students, and yelling at them. The solution? Transfer her to a different school, and make sure I left the teaching profession. Breaks my heart. I am lucky that my daughter has extraordinary teachers, they inspire even me. I wish that every child had the chance to be touched by great teachers. And that we had a system that didn’t make that so unlikely.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Funny, I thought snowflakes were silent.

    Our readers could benefit from hearing more of the full story. The teacher sent the student to the principal’s office for being disruptive. The fact that she sent him to the principal’s office got her into trouble, and she is now suspended for doing so. Part of his rant was that students were not getting enough individual attention, so she made sure he got individual attention at the principal’s office, but that was apparently not the right thing to do, so his mother is now ranting about how unfair the individual attention was.

    Meanwhile, another common complaint I hear from students is that there are some individual students who monopolize the teacher’s attention. I keep hearing how teachers don’t seem to be able to keep classes on track. I hear how there’s too much energy in high school spent trying to keep classes from spinning out into useless tangents. There are plenty of students out there complaining about exactly what this student did, not just about how teachers teach.

    How is ranting at your teacher in the classroom really going to advance the cause of educational quality? It sure got him out of doing the assignment, so I guess ranting has some great practical application after all. How would an award-winning educator handle a class meeting in which all the students were yelling at him that he’s a bad teacher? Take me through that “teachable moment” and how you would handle it in person.

    Time for students at that age to learn an important life lesson – if you are not feeling engaged or excited, that is in large part down to YOU, not because of your teacher. If you have absolutely no power to motivate yourself, and the teacher is the one who’s responsible for keeping you interested, then you will need to grow into more of an actual person instead of remaining a passive recipient. I can’t wait to see how this student handles the adult responsibility of holding down a job – tell your boss that she’s just not motivating you enough for you to do your job and rant against her in front of all the other employees. Lotsa luck with that.

    I bring up the job issue because this particular student had taken a year off from high school in order to try to find a job. I don’t know how successful he was in that endeavor, but it suggests that perhaps he is independent enough not to need high school anymore. So, what is he complaining about? If he doesn’t like it, he can pursue educational opportunities elsewhere.

    When you’re an adult, you have to own your boredom. You have to figure out why you’re bored and take some responsibility for making something more exciting in your own constructive way. If you simply demand that teachers keep you interested, then you have not developed past childhood.

    We cannot create a system in which the teacher is the ONLY one responsible for keeping students interested. That will not work. Not with 35 students in a classroom all wanting to go their own directions, each one with distinct interests, personalities, and backgrounds. You cannot do that AND force them all to be in school. Where is this magical evangelical power supposed to come from?

    I get it that the student felt bored. Getting real, actual, challenging information is not as easy as playing a video game. Mindless entertainment is always going to be easier than learning something new.

  4. I used to tell complaining kids “if you can’t learn because of them, learn in spite of them.” A circle of teachers working on advanced degrees found that their “distance learning” classes were not well-supported so formed a group and coached each other. They did well.

    We’ve done to schools something like what we did to mental health: we didn’t like what existed and saw that it didn’t work, so we did away with the old — but then the NEW never formed. Not enough money, not enough good thought, none of the restructuring of the big picture that ought to have been there.

    We want magic.

    Prairie Mary

    • I say we give him what he wants and let him teach a class. Put him in charge, and see how much he “touches everyone’s hearts” and gets people motivated. If he really does know better, then let him do it. Show us, Young Wise One, in your extensive experience, how to get students motivated and learning useful things.

      Oh, wait, we’re doing that already with all the small group work that so many kids do nowadays. They’re already in charge of teaching each other. How’s that going, by the way?

  5. I see Jay, but where’s Silent Bob?

    The kid has a right to his feelings and to his opinion, naturally, and he has some valid concerns. But, his argument and his approach is pretty stupid:

    “I’m mad and I’m out of control and it’s all your fault!”

    How does that work? If I act like a spoiled brat, then that’s certainly not my new teacher’s fault. Dare I say it, but that could just be, I don’t know, MY fault as the spoiled brat?

    And talk about your white privilege. Where I’m from, if a black kid did that instead of a white kid, he’d be in jail right now. He’s damn lucky to be a spoiled suburban white kid, no matter how “gangsta” his mannerisms.

    • Thank you, Steve.

    • Really? It it even possible for us as a culture to actually explore and critically ruminate on things themselves without vomiting our subjective and insufficiently contextual moralities?

      I’d prefer passion over apathy from students. And bringing race into this has nothing to do with anything. Another example of how individuals get washed away because someone else has it worse. Poor little white kid can’t make a fuss because a black kid would have it worse? sure, that’s true but it has no bearing on anything, here. The same sort of formulations lead to this stupid idea that we should glorify certain kinds of anger, but be utterly dismissive of others based entirely on one’s outward identity. This is the same sort of zero-sum, pick-and-choose attitude that creates standardized tests and inefficient, homogeneous methods for instruction.

      And how do we not know that the teacher in question here isn’t acting entitled? or that she was boxed into a methodology that just doesn’t work? is her district one that sees teachers as glorified babysitters?

      The kid here made a statement that was caught by another student on video. This wasn’t a set-up, and it isn’t as if he turned on his webcam and said, “Hey internet! my teacher sucks!”, he addressed an issue via a means that was, I can say with near certainty, his only option. Politely discuss with her teacher? pass the buck up to the admins. Talk to the admins? brush-off or warnings for insubordination. Students don’t get a say in their own education, and that’s pretty much a fact.

      So it seems like he either ought to sit down and stop caring, or sit down and stop caring. Sorry, but I’ll take a dozen passionate if irate students over a thousand apathetic, uninterested teens any day of the week.

      • Thank you for helping me make my point. Your message says you prefer passionate kids over apathetic kids any day. That makes plenty of sense to me.

        That suggests that the students come into your class with their own levels of passion or apathy. I agree. So, there must be other factors at work besides the quality of the current teacher. Obviously students bring THEIR OWN level of interest. It’s not totally the teacher’s job to inspire them or reach their hearts or whatever. Obviously this kid’s passion was totally independent of the teacher’s actions, or else he would not have spoken so passionately.

        So, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that teachers are the ones who have to inspire passion AND say that kids are passionate despite what teachers do. Which is it?

        • So education is zero-sum? There’s no place where teachers meet students head on and allow for the energy to mix and create an environment of passionate exploration and critical consideration? That each student holds the key to their own education isn’t something I’d argue with, but you’re not understanding that both students and instructors hold varying degrees of passion, ability, work-ethic and approach. A teacher must be, in most situations able to address the fact that different students learn in different ways. Jeff’s complaint isn’t that the teacher sucks, full stop. Jeff’s complaint is that (from the very limited context) he engaged with nothing but a singular, non-dynamic style of instruction.

          I mean, I learn best in a “lecture style”, myself. However, I also know that not every kid learns like I do. Some work best in a discussion setting, some excel at reinforcement via active “doing”, some will require one-on-one to gain access to the basic principles, and some will be either so individually passionate they essentially teach themselves or on the other extreme they’ll be so disinterested and apathetic that there’s nothing that would help.

          It feels like your position is basically: “they don’t want to teach themselves so screw ‘em”, which is just so infuriatingly bootstrappy and absolutely flies in the face of the ideal purpose of education as a means to engage with students as they grow and develop; to teach and reinforce skills that will help them to live in the world.

          Again, you’re saying he should sit down and shut up and be grateful for whatever scraps of knowledge he receives. Actually, that sounds like perfect practice for the current state of the American workforce. So maybe you’re onto something. Perhaps we ought to just skip education entirely and replace it with for-profit “schooling” call centers where we can get them hands on experience of how to never speak up, hold their bladder for their scheduled five-minute bathroom breaks and then grade them on the amount of money they make for their “principle”. The best part? we wouldn’t even need to pay them. In fact, their parents’ property taxes will pay the company itself.

          Of course, we’d need to ensure that “old fashioned” education remains for those who can afford to send their kids to private schools. Why not? it’s the natural order of things, anyway.

      • “It it even possible for us as a culture to actually explore and critically ruminate on things themselves without vomiting our subjective and insufficiently contextual moralities?”

        I’m confused. Which one of these was in the video? It looked a lot like the “vomiting” one and not so much like the “critically ruminate” one. It looked a lot like that whole “subjective” and “contextual” thingamajig. I missed the part of his speech in which he invites the listener to calmly, deeply reflect on the nature of the educational mission….

        • No dear, I’m talking about how you want to create a morally judgmental position from the thinnest of contextual evidence.

          • “to create a morally judgmental position from the thinnest of contextual evidence.”

            Well, shoot, I thought that’s what Mr. Bliss was doing. He does it and he’s a hero, but when I do it I’m an idiot?

  6. Nicholas,

    Once again you’ve amazed me. This video is being bandied about facebook in a way that says : ” this kid is out of control. Thinking like most teachers (I’ve lost control of my class) leaves me shameful and unable to move. I also know that most learning and magic comes from a breakdown that leads to a breakthrough. Wouldn’t it be great if the instructor revamped the class and challenged both himself and his students by incorporating what was important to them. When I taught high school students, I often remarked : I don’t care about testing (I was preparing them to pass the High School Exit Exam); I’ve been hired to help you pass an exam and I am going to give you way more than that. When a student told me that my teaching of writing was boring, I encouraged him to share what he and the class might find exciting and then assigned him the role of teaching a new type of material a new way ( I focused on Literary terms by offering SciFi Short Stories, films (Sophie’s Choice and Stand By Me) to cultivate choice making, critical thinking and living with the effects of decisions that we make. I pushed them to develop a way of thinking that would allow them to thrive despite me not being around and despite the oppressions waiting them.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I do like the idea of analyzing or digging deeper into a student’s boredom. They need to take ownership of their own boredom and figure out why it happens and what THEY can do about it. It’s not just about how teachers need to clean up their act to avoid boring their students.

  7. I agree that passion can be excellent motivational raw material for learning. By itself it is not enough, however, and it can even be counterproductive.

    For example, let’s evaluate his presentation in terms of language clarity, appropriateness of argument, effective use of rhetorical strategy, understanding of his audience, etc. Did his rant demonstrate a level of educational preparedness, or was it something he could have done without any schooling at all? It’s not ethical to grade someone based on his charisma, and it’s not ethical to grade him based on how quickly his speech went viral, because he didn’t plan to make it a Youtube video, so let’s look at it objectively. I’d grade it as a B-minus as an academic presentation. Here’s an excellent case study to examine ad hominem strategies, improper appeals, etc. Lots of “Effective Communication” no-no’s here.

    I hope no one is saying that a student should get points for passion or points for “heart.”

    I would love to live in a society where a brilliantly composed public letter from a high school student could go viral and sweep the nation, instead of an insulting outburst.

    • Gabriel Ross says:

      I wonder if he ever brought that type of passion to any other discussion in his class about actual subject matter. Or does he just reserve that passion for when he’s angry at the teacher.

  8. Gabriel Ross says:

    No matter how much you might identify with the general message, you should not support Jeff Bliss until he makes an unequivocal apology to his teacher and class for the extended disruption he made. It’s not like anything he said was groundbreaking or insightful. It was a bunch of cliches and addressed concerns which teachers, admins, and legislators have been debating for decades. There are plenty of people who have carried that message for years who haven’t made unfounded, evidence-free accusations against their teachers. As a veteran teacher, I don’t think you would have allowed this type of disruption to happen in class w/o consequences. And as a veteran teacher, you should know that students disrupting class and attempting to wrest classroom control from the teacher is one of the primary challenges teachers face today. In fact, it is one of the reasons teachers need to give so much written work in the first place.

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