Boomers and others may remember The Gong Show, which aired from 1976 to 1980. The brainchild of Chuck Barris, who created, produced, and hosted the show, The Gong Show was an amateur talent show that unfolded five days a week on daytime TV. Three celebrity judges would evaluate the acts. For truly dreadful ones, any judge could put the audience and the performer out of their misery by picking up a mallet and banging a gong.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) can think of no better analogy to describe the thinking of state legislators as they write new laws to control what teachers can do and say in the classroom.
Why did they do it? The Gong Show contestants. Did they know how truly awful they were and they were in on the joke? Did they really think they were talented and their appearance was their big chance for fame and fortune? Was there a secret pay-off from the producer for willingly humiliating themselves before the world?
Is GOT still talking about the show or Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, et al. politicians who dominate the legislatures and write the bad laws?
But the legislators see themselves more as the judges and teachers as the performers who need to be gonged whenever classroom discussions erupt around uncomfortable issues, which they define as anything that would make a white, conservative, nationalist, far-right parent uneasy. 2022 seems to have targeted particularly LGBTQ+ issues and the Black experience in America.
Gong the teacher who dares to allow students to talk about their perspectives as they share the memories and histories of their ancestors that their parents and grandparents have passed on to them.
Gong the teacher who dares to allow students to confide in them about their struggles with their identity.
Gong the teacher who goes beyond the now-micromanaged curriculum to enrich the intellectual lives of their students.
Gong the teacher who dares to respect the family backgrounds, including their religion, of the students they teach. How dare they?
Gong! Gong! Gong!
The irony is that America now has a teacher shortage. They are Gone! Gone! Gone!
But the pols have an answer. Technology to the rescue! Teachers aren’t needed. All it takes is someone who’s tired of getting splattered with hot grease for minimum wage in a fast-food joint and thinks riding herd over screen-weary, bored teenagers or overstimulated, tantrum-throwing children for minimum wage is a better gig.
Edutech is the answer, they think. It can’t riff off the curriculum established in state law. There are no messy discussions when all a student interacts with is a screen. Technology is the contraceptive that they think the minds of America’s youth need.
Funnily enough, The Gong Show had that one covered, too. Bring on Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine!