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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

It’s a mess – and it’ll be great

I greatly admire Adam, his conviction, and his advocacy. When I saw him begin a conversation with Diane Ravitch, I jumped in, hoping that Ravitch would take my interest as incentive to respond to Adam. I wish all of our national leaders would spend some time discussing learning and stewardship with him.

A conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

Ravitch did reply, and I found myself juggling a conversation with her and a few fellow educators throughout the afternoon. I’d like to share with you and then offer a few ideas about what the conversation suggests to me about education reform. Remember to read the tweets in chronological order, or upside down, or backwards – however it’s done correctly.

First we tweeted about which of our leaders “get it” (though I’m sure we have different ideas of what “it” is). As it turns out, not many leaders do.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

Then we moved on to the importance of watching and listening.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

A couple of new friends joined us shortly after that, and we spent some time getting to know one another better.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

That took a while. Ravitch popped back in to reiterate her position that charters are not the answer.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

Finally, we started finding common ground, even though, to borrow a phrase from Ravitch, “Chad, it’s not that simple.”

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

Despite my best efforts, we wound up perseverating on charters for a while. I don’t think that people realize that destroying charters destroys schools like Northwest Passage High School and the Phoenix Charter Academy. Schools such as these serve a desperate need to reach out to the kids the system ignores and sometimes helps destroy.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

I left the conversation feeling compelled to help teachers like @historytunes identify and exploit the glitches, hacks, and loops left to them and their students. No one deserves a to work or learn in a system that harms them and limits them.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

Before I close, I’ll share a few tweets that didn’t make it into my conversation threader (thanks, @tweetree!). Here are four regarding what we can and can’t do, what I have and haven’t read, and the importance of national political organization.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

And here’s one about charter schools and their enrollment, or lack thereof, of ELL and special education students.

More from a conversation with Diane Ravitch et al.

And now for the promised ideas.

First, educational transformation is messy, but its results will be great. As urgent as it felt to me, at time, to make myself clear or to convince a tweep of this idea or that, there was nothing wrong or nasty about today’s conversation. It just felt tough and important. My daughter fell off her swing last night and bloodied her nose. She is doing great today. She’s as irrepressible as ever. We have to be irrepressible in our effort to change public education – tearfully, joyfully so, bloodied or not.

Second, our leaders – even the ones on “our side” – won’t always understand our vision of an authentic, democratic, healthy, and sane education. Our leaders will, at times, want to repeal a law rather than revolutionize schools’ relationships to students and their learning. We will need to stand up to them, even when it is unpopular with our colleagues to do so.

Finally, when the leaders log off or turn to tweet about this appearance or that, we teachers, students, parents, and communities will be left together to hash things out – and if we can keep at it, despite the massive discomfort of reconciling our beliefs, then we’ll come away from our conversations with a deeper commitment to helping one another take action in dreaming and making some awesome schools, coöps, and unschools open to all kids through universal public education. When the leaders are gone, we are still together, and where we can’t make everything work, we can help one another make something work until we get legislation passed that protects a deeply compelling and personally meaningful education for each child.

Take away the research, the leaders, the unions, the corporations, and the government. Can we decide to do the right thing by children and their learning – classroom by classroom, school by school, and community by community? Absolutely. Will it be difficult? No doubt. Will we have to make ourselves uncomfortable? All the time.

Transforming education? It’s a mess – and it’ll be great.

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


6 thoughts on “It’s a mess – and it’ll be great

  1. I enjoyed reading the twitter messages this afternoon, though after the fact. I’m glad you chose to highlight some of this conversation in a blog post, Chad.I think it’s never an either/or situation when talking about education. It’s always a “depends”. Yet, when we talk charter schools (or any kind of school that falls out of the public realm) and given the current climate, a nerve is activated and some of us respond by saying, “Ouch!” I don’t think Diane Ravitch, or anyone else for that matter, is saying no to all charters. However, we need to remember that charters that do good things for kids are few and far between. Many are for profit ventures that do more harm than good because they take away money from public schools where the neediest students are enrolled. And, I think the public realm, as it exists today, is stifling teachers and kids. We need to cut the yoke that binds us so that we can do the wonderful things we know how to do and some teachers are still doing despite all the odds. Let’s keep the conversation going.

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | June 5, 2011, 10:33 pm
    • “Yes,” to wonderful things –

      However, I object to un-nuanced critique of charters. Imagine if our ed website was attacked because Rick Hess is paid by Bill Gates to write pro-Gates Foundation posts on his blog.

      It costs me nothing to quickly acknowledge that corporate charters promote harmful practices, most of them amplified public school practices. Why does it take debate to get someone like Ravitch to grudgingly admit that there are some “good” charters only after she is stood up to regarding school’s like Jamie’s?

      Moreover, why is this message lost whenever charters are mentioned? We need new kinds of educational experiences and schools for all children. When people like Ravitch take such statements, focus on the charter issue, and drive debate back to charters, they play right into the hands of the two-sided, media-gobbled educational debate in our country that stifles all public schools – including charters like mine. We aren’t going to win a fight more quickly than we can change what we do at the classroom and school levels. We need national leaders to promote a national agenda that moves schools ahead; rolling back NCLB doesn’t address the issue of change for the future.

      My nerves are touched when charters are trashed by my public education colleagues. I think to myself, why, I could work at a magnet school or specialty center or program and not be subject to an instance of these unwarranted attacks. I could also get out of alternative education and teach some honors classes and get the test-score police off my back. I have all kinds of options.

      The option I choose is to champion change so schools become palaces where teachers and students negotiate authentic learning, meaningful curricula, and healthy relationships.

      That I have come to my beliefs and enriched my practice at a charter school must be a hard truth for some to swallow, but that is the truth, and that is why I support giving all schools the room I have been afforded to discover what works for my students.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | June 6, 2011, 10:00 am
  2. Chad, Thank you for the tweet archive and for the description of the tone and thrust of the conversation. I have a couple of responses. I don’t love being too obsequious with Ravitch, who herself is a bit of a national brand and careful of her policy (and political) positions–they help her sell books and get speaking gigs. She’s a tough cookie, and intellectual certainty is her stock in trade. When you call her up to take a stand, she thinks she’s already a brave warrior, having made a public turnaround on her positions on testing, high-stakes accountability, teachers as victims.

    I love how you fiercely stand up for your position and see grassroots activism–teacher led–as a seat of change and collective power. I think this is a powerful position, as you know, and I urge YOU to push it forward (just the way you are) instead of relying of people with “big” names. You are a force to be reckoned with.


    With respect,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | June 6, 2011, 9:09 am
  3. Chad,

    Thanks for posting the conversation. I agree that Ravitch is a ‘tough cookie,’ as Kirsten says, but I also am glad that she engages and joins the conversation. What I find disheartening is how any mention of charters always derails the conversation. If we can accept that charters were created as labs of innovation to inform practices in traditional public schools, then the conversation about whether they are good or bad is a moot point. We know what they *can* be, and that’s what matters.

    I hear in your post echoes of my own musings about true school choice and what it means to offer a students a variety of options, some which depart entirely from the idea of school as we know it.

    Thanks, as always, for pushing our thinking!

    Posted by marybethhertz | June 6, 2011, 1:34 pm
  4. Chad,

    What an awesome conversation. I would love to sit down with Dianne and have a cup of coffee. I would imagine that we have a lot of things in common. Thanks for the shout out to Northwest Passage High School. Would love for her to visit. I have had the honor of connecting with Deb Meier over the years and I know they are collaborating through blogs. I agree that we need to elevate the dialog about charters to be able to differentiate between the mission and control of the local versus the corporate charter school movement. We must preserve the public commons for students and their families. I will be at ISTE. We should meet.

    Posted by Jamie Steckart | June 7, 2011, 10:23 pm

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