Exhausted, Discouraged, and Thankful
I don’t know how many people noticed, but I haven’t posted in a while. I know a few people noticed some comments I made on Twitter recently about my current state of mind around education politics and media coverage, and it’s that state of mind that has contributed to my writer’s block. Add to that the adjustment to a new school year and new work arrangements (I’m now doing two part-time jobs), and well… it’s been an unusual few weeks.
What’s bugging me is the sense that education reform debates and policy wrangling are constant and in high gear, while the people I want most involved in those matters are classroom teachers, who rarely have the time to learn enough about these groups and issues, and whose jobs may prevent them from doing very much about these issues. We’re facing waves of media coverage ready to lay accountability primarily on schools and teachers, as if we could control the dominant factors in students’ lives, or school funding and governance. We hear politicians using terms they don’t understand to set up scenarios that don’t exist in hopes of beating us down politically and cutting our pay and benefits. We’ve got education advocacy groups wrapping themselves in righteousness by claiming that their organization is standing for children and putting students first, and then investing their time, energy, and money in divisive battles with educators. We’ve got hedge-fund investors building school portfolios, voucher advocates and charter management organizations, and technology and publishing companies all increasing corporate and shareholder earnings by chiseling away dollars from classrooms that they have helped present as failures, and therefore in need of higher standards and competition.
Now, if you might be one of those people (corporations… same thing) that I’m alluding to above, and you think you’re doing good, I’d love to hear from you. I painted with a broad brush there, with the intent of capturing an impression I have more than a detailed summary of specifics. But let me get to the broader point here: what’s frustrating me even more is that those people are collecting a pay check to come up with new and better ways to undermine the good work that is being done and could be done in public schools, while teachers are ill-equipped to fight back with their own stories, expertise, and advocacy. We don’t have the time or the access to stand on even footing with our detractors and question them as they denigrate us. While they’re on television or webcasts, speaking at various conferences and forums and policy events, the vast majority of teachers are busy working at schools and unable to respond. (I should note that I’m currently teaching part time, so I am one of the few teachers who had time to post comments on an Education Nation panel on Monday afternoon). For teachers, our main option is reliance on our unions to represent us, but unfortunately, even when they’re right, unions are heard and understood in a certain way that limits their effectiveness; we need to diversify the voices of teachers presented in various forums. Partly, that can happen through groups like ACT, Teacher Leaders Network (and the New Millenium Initiative), and others, but even then we rely on funders to give us the time and resources to compete in the marketplace of ideas and information. My prefernce would be for teachers to rise up en masse and much more organically to resist the trends that undermine public confidence and investment in education – but we’re not there yet. Just thinking about getting there, and fending off disaster, left me exhausted and discouraged.
Trying to turn that feeling into something more productive, I want to use the rest of this blog post to will myself back towards optimism, and to thank some of the people who help me maintain energy and motivation. The silver lining on the education “reform” cloud is this: because of the internet, and good people who put considerable effort into putting useful material online, we have access to great information and communication tools that enable us to stand together. When a politician makes inflated, distorted claims of success, we can call them out. When they give out half-truths and bury inconvenient ones, we can dig up what they’re trying to hide. When they cherry pick examples to support unwarranted claims, we can serve some warrants and indict their cynical propaganda. There may be an exhausting and discouraging series of contentious debates going on, but if it were 20 years ago, it would be so much harder to recognize and respond to the problems, and harder still to build our support networks around the nation and the world.
Here are many of the people I want to thank personally for the time and effort they’ve dedicated to presenting outstanding information, examples, analysis, and arguments that help resist the tides working against public schools, teachers, and students. These are the people I lean on. Whether they know it or not, they keep me going: Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan, Linda Darling-Hammond, Barnett Berry, Diane Ravitch, Larry Cuban, Renee Moore, Valerie Strauss, Ken Libby, Jose Vilson, Rita Solnet, Leonie Haimson, Larry Ferlazzo, Mary Tedrow, Bruce Baker, Matthew Di Carlo, Sabrina Shupe-Stevens, Ken Bernstein, Brian Crosby, Rachel Levy, Bill Ivey, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, and Bill Ferriter (whose encouragement helped this blog come about).
It should be a longer list (I could come up with another 15-20 names pretty easily from Teacher Leaders Network and another dozen from ACT, but to make it useful to any readers who might want to follow up, maybe finding themselves in a similar mood sometime, I focused on people with an online presence so you can pick up a quick dose of excellent thinking and writing on education. Maybe some readers would like to add comments below to share information about who it is that keeps you going. I know I could use it.