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October 7th

Today at IDEA, I posted this and would love your comments:

Today is the National Day of Action for Education Transformation and Justice.  Thousands of teachers, youth, and activists around the country will be doing something today to say, “enough already” and call for a deeper and more nuanced conversation about the purposes and practices of education in America.

Yet, many activists won’t be seeking transformation or nuance or engagement.  Instead, they will defend education and demonize broadly the forces that call for school reform.

And therein lies the root of the problem.

The most transformative act someone could take today is to walk into a public school and have a real conversation with a student, a principal, and a teacher about what is happening there.  Or we could call a meeting of parents together to talk about what we really want to be happening in our schools and in our communities.   We need the mothers and our best teachers and our students to turn down the arguing and turn up real dialogue.  When is the last time you saw moms, teachers, and students having a real, honest, down and dirty conversation about the state of learning in your town?

Today, my action is to go and meet with students and staff at Next Door, Inc. in Hood River, Oregon to learn about the value of a program that offers dignity and voice to youth that have previously been incarcerated.  It isn’t sexy.  There won’t be a big banner or march.  But it holds the potential to weave yet one more strand into the fabric of what might bring about real change.

It is too easy for anyone interested in the lives of youth and the health of our communities to have our attention turned by the latest policy threat, the newest movie, or the largest grant initiative.  I see this in myself as well.

Meanwhile, rather then building the strategic networks and relationships and quality practices needed to spur real change, our energy flows out into protest.

The all too simple attack on teachers is met by an all too simple attack on charter schools, the Gates Foundation, or corporations.

Our students and communities deserve more nuanced, more powerful, and more honest conversations.

So do something radical today.  Use today’s call to action to set-up a meeting with your local principal and ask her/him to arrive ready to generously listen to the real needs and issues of parents, youth, and teachers.

Or keep it simple, ask a young person you love what they dream about and what they want to see happening in the community you share.  Then listen.  Deeply and generously listen.

I can think of few better actions to take today.



4 thoughts on “October 7th

  1. By happenstance, I had a real conversation with a student today about how I differentiate reading. It gave me the chance to acknowledge and apologize for how unclear I, at least, have been in making what I do more transparent to students. The student was concerned: he felt he was being held to a different behavioral standard in reading because it seemed like reading carried different expectations for another student with whom I’m trying a much more progressive approach to reading comprehension and assessment. (And that might be the first time it’s hit me how ludicrous it is that I, a public school teacher with no great love for the status quo, consider audiobooks to be progressive.)

    I think of myself as a pretty up-front teacher and person, but even something as well intentioned as differentiation seemed opaque and unfair to this student. I’m glad I had the chance to talk with him, and I think I should have the same conversation on different scales with other students and classes.

    I believe in reading and I believe in differentiation; how strange it must seem to students and unexamined it must be by us to do these other things we do in which we don’t believe.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | October 7, 2010, 2:27 pm
  2. It would be great to have students journal a response! Thanks for the idea and letting me know about the day. I didn’t know this was the National Day of Action for Education Transformation and Justice. I like that they used the term transformation versus reform. I think keeping conversations going is a way to building a bridge and working towards reform. In a webinar I attended the other day, I believe it was Deborah Meier who said we need to make enough time in the school schedule for teachers and parents to have conversations, build trust, and listen to each other. She said that the lack of conversation and listening to each other had built a distrust between staff, teachers, parents, and students.

    Posted by Shelly | October 7, 2010, 5:05 pm
  3. Scott, thank you so much for this, for the call for listening and for moderating the violent discoursing. As you say so wonderfully, “Speak with the possibility of being heard, listen with the possibility of changing your mind.”

    As it happens I spent part of the day yesterday talking with a student who was about to be expelled from a school I work with. The student, who had not been engaged in violent incidents in school before, got involved in a drug deal outside of school. His honor was on the line. Late last week he walked into school, went to the student lounge, and began punching another kid. A serious fight ensued. Teachers had to pull the two kids apart. The other kid was hurt. The brand-new principal cried (in private) when she described it. After a week of looking at the national data on what expulsion does or does not do (mostly nothing–teaches kids nothing and bans them from their potentially healing community), talking to teachers who demanded safety, and considering many alternatives, decisions were necessary.

    Mostly what I did was listen to people: the young principal as she wrestled with the moral decisions involved in creating community and deciding how to communicate to people what is acceptable and what is not, (how we hold people in even when they do bad things, and when we cannot), to the young teachers who felt threatened and scared, to students who were angry that this stupid thing had happened and wanted swift justice, to the kid himself who was ambivalent, angry, and wary about the incident when “something inside him flipped.”

    I found myself thinking about how much running a school is like creating a family, and how the work calls on school leaders in profound moral ways that they often don’t feel prepared for, because of their own development and life experiences. (Just like parenting.) And how much for students and teachers, being in school is like being in a family, and how we project our own family experiences onto school in ways that are often unconscious, and oh so powerful.

    As we wrestle here with trying to talk about the nuances of the work, realities that don’t easily yield to zero-tolerance policies or rigid accountability structures or valorous narratives about one person with the right answers, your call Scott for listening, and Shelly’s for trusting conversations, seems exactly right. The essence of the work is about the complex moral and emotional business of growing human beings–while we are trying to grow ourselves.

    This requires listening, and real attention to how complicated that work is.

    Posted by Kirsten | October 8, 2010, 8:58 am


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