Charlie and the Education Factory: The Era of Veruca Salt

When I was younger, my favorite past time involved hiding myself in books. As an only child who was very shy, the characters in my favorite stories were my best friends. They got me when no one else did. They didn’t make fun of me because I didn’t know how to apply make-up (that I wasn’t supposed to be wearing) or the latest hip-hop/rap song (which I almost never listened to). They accepted me for who I was so I spent most of my childhood getting eye strain from reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep.

One of my favorite authors was Roald Dahl who wrote, among other things, James and the Giant Peach,  The Fabulous Mr. Fox, Matilda, and my all-time favorite Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In this bookwe have the distinct pleasure of meeting a character by the name of Veruca Salt. Veruca is one of the very lucky children who find one of the five golden tickets sent out by Mr. Willie Wonka himself which allows her access to his fabulous chocolate factory. When we first encounter her, she is bedecked in all the compulsory hair bows and fur appropriate for a very rich little girl . On the surface, she is a beautiful child but as soon as she opens her mouth the truth comes out: rich, spoiled, brat.

In the original (and best I might add) cinematic version of the book, we find Veruca in one of the rooms in the factory that houses geese who lay golden eggs. She tells her father she wants one and he says he’ll get her one as soon as they get home. “No!” she screams, “I want one of those!” Dad tries to pay Willie Wonka for one and he says they aren’t for sale. What follows is 2:38 minutes of one of the greatest temper tantrums ever to hit a screen. Veruca begins singing a song titled “Don’t care how, I want it now” which explains that she better get want she wants or else. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing this little ditty, you can watch it here.

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In the end, Veruca receives her comeuppance when she stands on top of the egg scale and falls through having been declared a “bad egg.” Her father is distraught and tries to save her but, alas, he falls through also and receives the same label. Such a sad, yet predictable, story.

In the United States, we can point to a number of historical eras that have helped shaped who we are as a nation: The Colonial Era, The Revolutionary Era, The Civil War Era, The Reconstruction Era, The Industrial Era, The War Era (I and II), The Post-War Era, The Civil Rights Era, The Vietnam Era, The New Millennium Era. Currently, we are in the midst of yet another era that I have affectionately named after the lovely young lady mentioned above: The Veruca Salt Era.

Over the past decade, educators have been placed under intense pressure and scrutiny primarily by people who either have never been educators, haven’t been in a classroom since they were students, or were in the classroom for such a short period of time that research shows they might as well leave it off of their résumé. They have little regard for what goes on inside the classroom (unless it some how involves them and whatever agenda or product they’re pushing) and they have even less regard for the educators inside said classroom. They dictate what they want, how they want, and what will happen if they don’t get it. Sound at all familiar? If Veruca were to sing her now infamous song today, the lyrics might read something like this:

I want today
I want tomorrow
I want test scores that just rise to the sky and I don’t care who cries 
I want the schools to be void of all laughter 
Stressed out teachers and students abound
And if I don’t get the things I am after
I’ll shut you down!

Don’t care how I want it now!
Don’t care how I want it now!

Educators are subjected to whatever whim or new doctrine seems to be popular at the time and we are told that we must comply or we’ll be written up, deemed ineffective, or fired. In the words of the Borg from Star Trek “resistance is futile.” Why? Because you won’t win. The Veruca Salt’s who have declared themselves the saviors of education won’t have it any other way. So what happens? Teachers quit and they quit because they are tired of being bullied. Actually, in most cases, they’re just tired. (Read: “Why I Quit Teaching After 33 Years” and “After Seven Years Too Frustrated and Tired to Teach Anymore“)

There are those that will claim that the only teachers who quit are those who can’t hack it in the classroom, who probably shouldn’t have been teaching anyway. After all, we all know teacher tenure is the reason education is failing our children. If we could just get rid of more of the bad teachers we’d be in much better shape. (Insert sarcastic eye-roll here)

teacher-cover

So where does that leave us?

“Judging by the tenor of the education debate in recent weeks, it would be easy to assume that the biggest challenge facing school leaders is how to get rid of bad teachers. But any problems caused by teacher tenure pale in comparison with the difficulty in getting teachers to stay.” Nick Morrison, Forbes Magazine (You can read the full article here.)

While things look a bit grim right now, I am hopeful that in the months and years to come we will see some type of change. It took 13 years before fictional Veruca was weighed and found to be lacking. If the story holds, and truth is indeed stranger than fiction, one day the educational Veruca’s will be weighed and in the sight of the whole world, found to be bad eggs.

(This is Part 1 of a 5 Part Series titled: “Charlie and the Education Factory.” Stay tuned to meet the rest of the characters!)

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