What Are We FOR?
This was the post that prompted me to set up an actual blog, shortly before the #OKEdRally in OKC on March 31st, 2014. It was also the first thing to get a response I liked better than my actual post. Both are reproduced in full here:
What exactly are we for?
I think this is worth considering anyway, but particularly so for Oklahoma educators planning on storming the Capitol in a few weeks. You never know, after all, who might ask.
History shows clearly how much easier it is to unite against things than to agree on the best alternatives. Anyone keeping up with events in Egypt, Syria, or dozens of other places in recent years knows this is still so. Even my students are quick to rally in opposition to my periodic efforts to play a little Coltrane or even Cannonball Adderley in class, but have yet to reach a convincing plurality regarding other musical options.
Browse Facebook or Twitter or the popular blogs, and the things we are against quickly become evident. Common Core is clearly the devil, as is standardized testing in general. Charter schools are the devil, usually hanging out with Vouchers - also the devil. Arne Duncan is the devil, along with Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, and occasionally even President Obama. Teach For America is the devil (this is one I particularly do not fathom, but that's a discussion for another day), the new SAT is the devil, college admittance offices are the devil, and the two combined mean the College Board and that new fella in charge are the super extra devil. Pearson actually IS the devil, but nevertheless still clutters the list, and Janet Barresi, while NOT the devil, acts as a sort of PR agent on his behalf, showing a loathing of public schools and public school teachers you'd not automatically expect from a State Superintendent - although it does somehow illuminate this childhood favorite:
But were all these swept away tomorrow, what would we wish in their stead? What are we FOR?
Yes, yes - I know we're for 'the children' and 'the future' and world peace and curing the common cold. I know the intangibles, but what SPECIFICALLY do we support? Do we sincerely trust a sort of "local control laissez-faire" approach to our schools? To everyone else's schools? Is there a system of accountability or assessment we could live with? Or even design? A strategy we'd be willing to implement? Even a philosophy or set of priorities on which we generally agree?
We're marching against many things, I assume, but the only one I'm aware we're marching FOR is money. This is completely valid and important. We cannot starve ourselves into pedagogical and academic success. But I worry about the messaging - an unpleasant consideration, but a critical reality nonetheless.
If we rally and chant and hold up our signs (let's watch our speling pleaze!) solely to kill accountability and demand money, maybe throwing in some cheap personal attacks on state leadership, I fear we will have difficulty persuading the average Oklahoma voter we bring something worth supporting... something worth paying for when no one seems to have much, and something that offers a digestible but optimistic direction we'd like to take their kids, their state, and their pocketbooks. Worse, I fear we perpetuate a rather unpleasant stereotype of teachers and our priorities - an image which, however unfair, has perhaps largely contributed to the presence and power of all those horrible things we're against.
So before loading up the busses, finishing the signs, or even forwarding that next link, consider pondering what it is we want TO happen at least as vigorously as what it is we're trying so intently to prevent or overthrow. Just in case anyone asks.
UPDATE: The best response that came to this post when it was on the other site came from Lisa Witcher. Lisa is a long-time educator and involved parent whose bio I suppose you can Google - or simply ask her about - if you simply must know more. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter - @MzWitch11
Recently, I read a blog that asked what is our education rally on March 31st for... Here are some thoughts -
Let's fund education in the same spirit, philosophy or economic logic that permits tax breaks to the very wealthy and to the businesses that would drill here anyway. Let's be for spending a ridiculous amount of money on our children and on our children's children. Let's be for funding education so that no principal has to decide between paper or a teacher's aide.
Government officials have asked how much is enough. Enough occurs when there are not 38 kids in my son's history class, when every computer can be updated, when every leak can be fixed, and when every teacher can raise two kids on his/her salary without applying for free/reduced lunch.
While I will refrain every day from littering Facebook with what I am against, I can banter for days about what I am for. I am for an educational system that reaches for the top of the bar instead of relinquishing its ambitions to being 49th. I am for a state that treats its teachers more like royalty and whose elected officials act more like servant leaders than members of an archaic feudal system. I am for your kid, your neighbor's kid, my kid and every kid - because they are worth it. What am I for? I am for learning; I am for letting students and teachers discover how learning happens. When they are able to discover that scientific, artful moment together, the students' pathways are infinite, spectacular, and life-promising. What am I for? I am for putting children at the center of every decision instead of politics. Those decisions do require funding - but they require so much more than just money.
There are those that will reduce the plight of public education to sound bites - but until you have heard a child emote because he/she finally understands - all you have heard is noise. Those that are trying to destroy public education see it as a billion dollar industry capitalism has yet to tap - they do not see the faces of four year olds who only need an equitable chance to learn and change our world.
What is March 31st for? It is for . My favorite children deserve the best Oklahoma has to offer. Heaven help us if we settle for just the sound bites.