A Teacher Becoming Maladjusted

I sat in a conference listening to Dr. Christopher Emdin from Columbia University speak a few weeks ago and his presentation has haunted me ever since. I encourage you to look into the work that Dr. Emdin is doing with “Reality Pedagogy” (, but it was his reference to the word “maladjusted” that has stuck with me. Dr. Emdin shared the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in his address; during a speech in 1963, Dr. King said this, “there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted.” ( Dr. Emdin suggested that it was time that we, as educators, become maladjusted to much of what is happening in public education today.


I am a 49-year-old white man who lives in a safe suburban neighborhood in Iowa. I teach in an outstanding school district with strong community support. It would be pretty easy for me to become adjusted to the current educational landscape. Yet, in reflecting on Dr. King’s words and Dr. Emdin’s speech I find myself uncomfortable with idea of simply accepting the things that seem to happening in education and in our nation.

In Dr. King’s 1963 speech he said, “I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence…” I find that his words resonate with this middle class white man more than 50 years after he spoke them.


The things that Dr. King said he could not become adjusted to are not just abstract notions. I live in a state where business tax credits have grown from $75 million in 2007 to over $230 million in 2016, all while we underfund our public schools ( I refuse to become adjusted to the idea that this type of corporate welfare is more important than the public school programs and staffing that are being cut in our state. I refuse to become adjusted to a federal budget that would eliminate funding for after school programs that this administration says don’t benefit young people, and yet evidence suggests the incredible things that they do ( I refuse to become adjusted to the notion that those who seek to profit off of education are better suited to run our schools than those of us who have dedicated our careers to improving learning for every student. I refuse to become adjusted to the notion that our government should not protect the rights of our most vulnerable young people ( I refuse to become adjusted to an apocalyptic view of American schools (


It is one thing to say that we oppose segregation, discrimination, bigotry, and economic injustices, but we must recognize that by becoming adjusted to policies and rhetoric that are creating those conditions; we are part of the problem. America’s educators must become maladjusted to anything other than the premise that our schools exist to support the fact that ALL students can learn. We must rise up and advocate that our nation’s resources reflect the belief that our public schools hold the key to a better life for ALL young people.

Sharing our maladjustment isn’t a safe choice for teachers. There are those that would rather we remain silent and simply become adjusted to the whims of those non-educators who wish to “reform” education. I believe that it is our moral responsibility to become maladjusted to the idea that educators don’t know what is best for our public schools. We must feel empowered to do what we do best and put students first. Public educators must be our students most powerful advocates. The real work of teaching and learning won’t be done by legislators, it will be done by teachers who feel empowered and who are maladjusted to the idea that our schools are anything other than sanctuaries of hope for EVERY young person who walks in our doors.

By patrickjkearney

Middle School band director in Iowa. Past President of the Iowa Bandmasters Association. Views expressed on this blog are my own.

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