Fighting Back


Note: This Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 12.52.39 PMwill most likely be a two-part piece. The second part will be focused on a response to what I’d term “a call to action” intro. What follows here is a version of what Simon Sinek called “the WHY question”. What follows in part 2 will be some thinking about “HOW” it might be done.

Last week, one of the daily posts from Jan Resseger was entitled “Backpack Full of Cash”. I urge you to take a few minutes to visit her blog and to explore the links she offers.

Some of you may recall that she is a frequent “visitor” to my pieces. She is a tireless researcher and advocate for public education. The quote at the top of her blog captures the essence of her commitment far better than I could hope to.

That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children…. is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination…. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose… tied to one another by a common bond.” —Senator Paul Wellstone — March 31, 2000

A Bit of Context…

As most of you know or have surmised, I am not a fan of schooling. I believe that it (schooling) has become separated from learning and has focused far too intensely on issues of compliance and efficiency. As I have shared previously, work by Gallup (studies revealing precipitous declines in student engagement as students progress through the grades) and Drucker (the critical difference between doing things right – i.e., efficiency – and doing the right thing – i.e., effectiveness) have and continue to highlight the problems caused by confusing schooling with learning.

This does not mean that I have abandoned the idea of public education. I believe strongly that a quality system of public education is critical to providing equitable access to learning. I believe with equal passion that the current system, based as it is on the commitment to schooling, is failing to provide both equitable access and quality to far too many of our children. I believe that, among the reasons for this failure, we must consider our own complicity in defending/maintaining the structure that served us well (forgetting that we represent a minority of those who experienced schooling with us), as well as our society’s reluctance to confront the effects of continued racial and economic segregation and the impact of the poverty which continues to accompany them.

What Else This Does NOT Mean…

  • Our ongoing struggle to unlearn schooling and focus on the creation of centers for, and of, learning does NOT imply that the solution lies with the privatization of education.
  • It does not mean that we allow wealthy philanthropists championing a self-serving libertarian agenda to turn schools into centers for profit.
  • It does not mean that we abandon our commitment to equity and quality for all in favor of limited opportunities… most of which leave the neediest behind.

While Betsy DeVos continues to serve as a focal point for the push for her life long commitment to vouchers and privatization, quietly and largely under the radar, organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and others have drafted, shared, and successfully promoted legislation in numerous states. Jan’s blog from yesterday details the role of Dark Money (See book by Jane Mayer) in the promotion of charter school expansion legislation in Massachusetts. After the failure of this initiative, the state investigated and fined the not-for-profit foundation that had largely bankrolled the failed legislative effort.

Make no mistake. This is not a huge victory. It does not signal a reversal of over 25 years of intentional denigration of the concept of public schooling. It does not, with one relatively small fine, change the decades long culture of test and punish as the favored response to “school improvement”. It does not change the conditions which are driving ever increasing numbers of teachers to abandon their profession. Nor does it undo the problems caused by the continued confusion of schooling and learning.

Jan and I discussed recently the high profile nature of the pro-choice, pro-voucher, pro-charter movement and the relatively meager coverage of the negative implications, along with the absence of critique of numerous false assertions by the deep pocket proponents/advocates. We discussed options for action.

One Option…

 The lead paragraph in Jan’s blog this morning reads:

 On Tuesday, October 10 at 7 PM, in the auditorium at Cleveland Heights High School (corner of Ceder and Lee Roads), we’ll screen the film, Backpack Full of Cash, from Stone Lantern Films and Turnstone Productions and narrated by Matt Damon. The screening will be followed by discussion.

Sponsoring this free screening is the Heights Coalition for Public Education, in conjunction with the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, Local 795 AFT; Reaching Heights; the Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education; the Northeast Ohio Branch, American Association of University Women; and Progress Northeast Ohio.

As Jan notes, there is a study guide  that accompanies the film as well as options for connecting with folks who wish to be certain that voices in opposition to the monetization of our children can be heard. Could your PTA sponsor a screening?

Another Option…

Note:   I’ve been struggling with this section. I’ve written and discarded at least 4 drafts. Not because there isn’t another option but because I couldn’t find the words that might be sufficient to grab the heart of anyone who reads it and inspire action on that option. And then I found it…in the words of Gregg Popovich, coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Gregg’s remarks came in an interview with a reporter for the San Antonio express-News. He was being asked about his response to the latest controversy swirling around the President and his recent remarks to an audience in Alabama. Gregg’s remarks were not intended to be about education but I believe they are.  

“Obviously, race is the elephant in the room, and we all understand that. Unless it is talked about constantly, it’s not going to get better. … ‘Oh, that again. They pulled the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that?’ Well, because it’s uncomfortable. There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it’s the LGBT community or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people, because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue of what being born white means. And if you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. We kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.

“It’s hard to sit down and decide that, yes, it’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash. You’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there. And they have been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it, it’s too difficult. It can’t be something that is on their plate on a daily basis. People want to hold their position, people want the status quo, people don’t want to give that up. Until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.” (emphasis mine)

While Gregg was offering thoughts on race, his remarks strike at the heart of our dilemma in education as well. As durable as the culture of schools has been, it cannot continue unchanged. If the history of the past 50 years (time since the publication of “A Nation At Risk”) has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that change will be initiated by us or done to us.

The forces of change are pressing in on us… We see them in the form of threats to public education, the demands for increased personalization (with multiple definitions and the same shallowness that accompanies almost all ‘buzzword’ solutions), the demands for a simultaneous focus on social/emotional learning, career readiness and superior test performance, etc. These forces of change will continue and they will accelerate.

The responses to these forces cannot be ignored and they can’t be superficial. Extending Mr. Popovich’s thoughts…They require that we think beyond what happens in our individual classrooms or offices. They require that we revisit our positions. They require that we challenge the status quo. We cannot be limited by a continuation of organizational cultures that reflect the kind of Us vs. Them. Nor can they be left to others. We have seen the results of sloppy problem analysis, poorly designed solutions, and dogmatic adherence to ineffective programmatic policies championed and mandated by ill-informed policy wonks. It is the voices of people working in schools that can inform the direction of learning for our students. But, and this is a big one, we can no longer spend such a precious resource in the defense of the status quo. “Until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.”

We have been an underutilized and extremely valuable resource. But it can’t continue. The times require a call to action… a call for educators to rethink what we have learned about learning… a call to insure that we create centers for learning that leave parents and students with only one response… I wish my school had been like that. I believe that we have to make our schools “like that” – centers for and of learning… centers which extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom and the school… centers which excite, engage, and inspire kids and adults to see and immerse themselves in the vast web of connections and opportunities that are unique to our times.

So, next we’re on to “how”!  Spoilers: Overcoming Confirmation Bias… how to change minds (or at least open them); Picking the “low hanging fruit”; Scouting for players and team members…

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