I’m a firm believer in respectful dialogue. I think tone matters. I believe metaphors need to be accurate. I cringe at all things militant (because military metaphors lead to wars and wars have huge casualties), even when we are advocating for revolutionary change. I believe in the power of humility and the necessity for paradox and nuance.
It would seem, then, that I’m a moderate. The truth is I’m not. I’m “that guy” who believes firmly in both un-schooling and public schooling (until the social systems are fixed so that parents can legitimately earn a living wage on one income). I’m “that guy” who speaks out against standardized tests, coercive discipline, punishments and rewards. And yet, I’m also “that guy” who pushes back and says, “Sometimes a loss of choice and autonomy are a part of existing in any community.” I’ll speak out in front of teachers about the need to listen to kids and I’ll remind youth that there is wisdom in listening to people with a little more experience.
The moderate middle is about finding a compromise and applying it across the spectrum. It isn’t about using a respectful tone so much as it is about talking nice and avoiding uncomfortable conversations. It’s Mickey Mouse and Anderson Cooper and the sense of normalcy that pushes anything “radical” toward the margins. It’s white noise. The moderate middle says, “Can’t we just have homework that is more meaningful and move to standards-based grading instead of doing away with them altogether?” or “Instead of getting rid of the discipline system, can’t we just switch to awards-only?”
Paradox and balance demands that we humbly recognize the tension in freedom and safety, in the group and the individual, in the humanity and and the machine, in planning for the future and living in the now, in teaching and learning, in systems and relationships, in being global and local, in listening humbly and speaking boldly.
Believing in balance and paradox does not mean finding an orderly middle between the two extremes. Rather, it means holding onto both sides simultaneously. Call it impure. Call it cognitive dissonance. Call it bat-shit-crazy. But it’s where truth almost always lies. It’s the messy tension of holding onto multiple perspectives and understanding the layers of nuance implicit in the paradox. It’s the bold idea that truth doesn’t have to be binary. It’s the humble reality that we’ll never get it right and that’s okay as long as we stay within that tension.