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Can You Hear Me Now?

May 25, 2010

Original image by David B. Cohen

Please note the UPDATES at the end of this post.

On Monday, May 24, 2010, a number of teachers I know, some personally and some through online networks, had a chance to speak with Arne Duncan.  The conference call came about through the efforts of ACT member Anthony Cody, whose disillusionment with the federal education agenda led him to start a Facebook group called Teachers’ Letters to Obama.  That grassroots organizing involved a letter writing campaign, and also led teacher Marsha Ratzel to help push the conference call idea into the consciousness of some people at the Department of Education.

The conversation, if we can call it that, turned out to be rather disappointing to the teacher participants.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’ve had my own negative experience with a DOE conference call, and the descriptions I’ve seen suggest that yesterday’s events were more of the same.  The bottom line is that the so-called experts on education go through the motions of hearing teachers, but not really listening.  Our expertise is discounted or ignored, and our criticisms are held against us like so much self-interested complaining.  If an architectural firm were designing a new workplace for you, wouldn’t you appreciate having the architects asking you about your work, trying to understand your needs?  Well, at the architectural firm of Arne Duncan and Co., they tell you what they’re going to do about your workplace, then they offer you a chance to respond to their plans – for about 15 minutes – and then proceed with their designs regardless of what you actually need.

But I wasn’t there.  So, see what my friends and colleagues have to say:

ACT Members -

Colleagues from Teacher Leaders Network -

And one more California teacher, for good measure -

UPDATE (5/26/10):  Secretary Duncan placed a direct call to Anthony Cody in the aftermath of all of this.  If you found yourself nodding in agreement at any of the criticisms, then let’s also give Duncan some credit for the follow up actions.  I sugggest you go ahead and read Anthony’s account of that phone call.

UPDATE #2(5/26/10): The Secretary also made a call to Marsha Ratzel, who has a similarly interesting, dare I say encouraging, story to tell.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Elena Aguilar permalink
    May 25, 2010 4:59 pm

    David,

    I LOVE the image! Brilliant! That says it all…somewhere I should post the 90 second shpiel I prepared. Here? Could I post here?

  2. May 25, 2010 7:21 pm

    Sorry, Wrong Number! We teachers are optimists and are working in classrooms and schools because we’re committed to youngsters and believe that they can learn and change. However, speaking with Secretary Duncan is not speaking with a classroom of youngsters who sometimes don’t listen. No, this conference call wasn’t a parent conference with Mr. Duncan, father of so and so. Rather, it was a conference call with the chief bureaucrat of American education. Backed by thousands of DOE bureaucrats, billions of dollars and The President, Duncan need only listen to himself and to his own “party line”. And that my dear like-minded optimist teacher friends is just what happened. Sorry, Wrong Number! The next call needs to be a Call to Action!

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      May 25, 2010 7:29 pm

      Richard, thanks for keeping up the optimism. You’re right, of course, about keeping ourselves grounded in classroom learning, while taking action beyond conference calls. I know we’ve all got more options looking ahead, though I feel for my colleagues who did everything right to make this moment happen and deserved better.

  3. May 25, 2010 7:46 pm

    David, I can’t adequately express how much I admire them and, like them, was hoping for a glimmer of breaking down the wall. Now it’s back to bed as it’s 5:44 Wednesday morning in Jerusalem. -Richard

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      May 25, 2010 7:53 pm

      I should just add that I don’t expect Arne Duncan to do whatever we ask, but it would help to have our views acknowledged and considered in some more substantial way. And the focus on Duncan should not, in the long run, replace the broader debates in education. But this event symbolizes what many teachers are experiencing and feeling about the formation of education policy.

  4. May 27, 2010 1:35 am

    David, I wish I were more optimistic after learning that Secretary Duncan telephoned Anthony Cody and Marsha Ratzel again. Sadly, I’m not. Although it’s certainly positive that civil discourse prevails.

    The federal educational bureaucracy is just too far removed from the local schools where the learning and the teaching take place. They’re only able to listen with their own broad agenda as the frame of reference. Even if Secretary Duncan invited the 12 teachers to sit in on an advisory committee in Washington, there is little chance that it would be anything more than a “public relations” tool.

    But, like Anthony and Marsha, I too would continue trying because as teachers we just don’t give up.

  5. May 27, 2010 6:12 am

    I agree with Richard….when we achieve some level of civil discourse I think we’ve been successful. I had no expectations that I would really make a difference, but even at my ripe old age of 50+ I still feel a responsibility to keep on trying. Maybe it’s a hangover from the 1960s.

    The beauty of today is that civil discourse can be found in the traditional places like we experienced in both phone calls and/or in face to face encounters. But it is also the impact of writing back and forth to each other in places like David’s blog.

    Why not take this as a call for all of us to get involved with each other? Why not consider this a reason for us to find virtual alliances and, if we can’t change the federal government…we can change our localities. I actually think that is the best place for us to band together and start demanding changes. It’s the only place I think I really have a chance to influence people. I know that’s where my heart is most passionate about education because it’s where I can utlize my expertise, match it up with what my students need and what the community expects.

    So I say…let’s go!!!!

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      May 27, 2010 4:50 pm

      Marsha – I hope your positive energy is infectious! I agree about the importance of working on the local level, too. Some wonderful, innovative things happen at the local level – especially when schools are stable and reasonably funded. However, I worry about the punitive effects of state and national policies, as Anthony Cody shared with Secretary Duncan and described in his blog. That’s the top-down model showing its flaws. The bottom up idea, such as you described, holds more appeal. Let’s see how teachers are actually solving the problems, and then see what the government can do to promote improved assessments, for example, without imposing a solution.

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