Education reform debate is often dominated by the megaphone. It’s Chancellor Rhee posing on Time Magazine with a badass face and a broom as if to say, “No time for debate. No time for discussion. No time to pause and think of the human element. We need change. Huge change. Loud change.” It becomes a contest of superlatives and slick marketing. For all of Arne Duncan’s talk of a “quiet revolution,” the titans at the top know little about silence or solitude or contemplation. They spend their hours in think tanks and conference rooms where coffee is always available and children are never present.
Meanwhile, a humble revolution is happening. By “humble,” I don’t refer to deference and ass-kissing. Instead, it’s the idea that maybe we don’t have all the answers. It’s the notion that maybe our students need to be brought into the conversation on reform, because a democratic voice will prevent teacher tyranny. It’s the belief that the answers don’t lie in a distilled list of rigid ideology so much as a paradox of authenticity. Humility means a teacher ought to serve students humbly, resisting the urge toward bribes and extortion. It’s a humble voice.
Mainstream media can’t hear it over the constant stream of “accountability” talk on the megaphone, but it’s happening on a very real level. It’s happening in classrooms. It’s happening on social media. Unlike a fast-paced broom or a massive firing of teachers, this revolution is deeper. It grows and it lasts, because ultimately screamers lose their voice much faster than a choir singing something real.
So here’s the deal: I care about Race to the Top and national standards and all the other ideas ruining education. However, I have seen the following ways that teachers are already working outside the system in ways that are slowly changing things within. It’s a collective and individual voice and it’s expressed in the following ways:
- Abandoning traditional grading in exchange for honest feedback
- Ignoring the Schoolwide Discipline Program in exchange for authenticity and humility and trust
- Playing Buzzword Bingo during PD time and forming their own professional development through unconferences, blogs and Twitter
- Refusing to use textbooks by reminding those at the top that the real curriculum is the standards (fun to trap the people above in their own words)
- Forming partnerships with the community through service learning, parent universities and other innovative co-curricular programs
- Writing their own grants to get technology into the classroom
- Engaging in deeper reform dialog with non-teachers, especially by being creative about media and pop culture critique
- Using research to back up authentic and constructivist teaching styles and therefore staying firm when they are criticized by curriculum specialists or administrators
- Moving into places of administration and taking the initiative to lead from within the system. I can think of a handful of teachers in my district who are bringing about site-based change because they built a coalition of teachers committed to authentic learning
- Recognizing that even within the constructivist reform circles, the experts are not the gurus like Diane Ravitch or Sir Ken Robinson. Instead, we are the experts. Those closest to the students are the ones who recognize what children need.
I know there are more, but those are just a few examples of why the real revolution is happening despite all the noisy rhetoric that goes on in the mainstream. Ultimately, that’s why I am hopeful. I know that sustainable change begins with a humble voice.