In the 1962 book “The Great Explosion” by Eric Frank Russell, there’s a story that changed my life. Titled “…And Then There Were None”, it posits a world where the inhabitants exhibit total freedom by simply refusing to do anything they don’t find reasonable. When Earth explorers land on their planet to make contact, the local population finds it puzzling that the crewmen on the ship allow themselves to be led by a captain. To them, the idea of being led is preposterous because nobody can be forced to do anything against their wishes. After all, if somebody refuses to work, the person giving the orders can punish them but will still have to do the job themselves. The inhabitants of this planet have absolute freedom – the freedom to refuse somebody else’s orders. I highly recommend you read it – you can find it for free here.
Throughout my life, I’ve found this story to be inspirational. When I worked at a Catholic school, I gave my boss six months’ notice that I would be taking a week off of school to tour with my punk rock band. He felt that being with the band was counter to their mission and gave me an ultimatum: Either quit the band or quit my job. Keeping the story above in mind, I immediately quit my job. I chose freedom.
Another story: I caught a student red-handed in cheating – photocopied evidence and everything. Because his mom was the head of the PTA, my principal told me that I should let the cheating allegation drop. Which I did. And then quit at the end of the school year. I exercised my freedom to say that “I won’t.”
With that, let’s cue the story of Jessica Gentry, a kindergarten teacher from Virginia. In a social media post, she describes how she found the world of teaching to be dehumanizing and antithetical to the well-being of her students. Instead of taking the abuse and suffering, she quit the profession. Her post was simply her way of explaining to others why she felt that teachers were leaving the profession in droves.
With that, I issue a challenge to all of you. If you are happy in your jobs, or at least get enough fulfillment from your work to make going to work a pleasure, keep doing the ever important job of helping your students. The world needs more people like you.
However, if you’re unhappy in your jobs, I challenge you to quit and find something better to do. You’ll be happier in the long run, and your primary commitment is to yourself and your family, not your job. And who knows, if enough people use their freedom to say “I won’t”, perhaps the people in charge will make the necessary changes that make saying “I will” more attractive in the future.