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Learning at its Best

I Have a Voice, But What Can I Do?

I’m reluctant to post on this topic, because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough.  I feel ashamed of the times I couldn’t make it to teacher marches at our state capital.  I feel guilty about the times when I didn’t canvas the neighborhood to promote pro-public school candidates.

Sometimes the system feels so big, so corrupt and so mechanical that it change seems insurmountable. So, what can I do?

I have a voice.  I can use it locally.  I can talk about education reform at family parties, in neighborhood hangouts and in the awkward transition times before and after church.

I have a voice.  I can use it online.  I can tweet out my thoughts (it’s why I’ve been using the hashtag #myreform and I’d love if people tossed out some thoughts on what they will do to change education). I can blog about it. I get it.  I don’t have the funding of Bill Gates and I won’t be invited to sit at a table with the president.  However, there’s a small band of people who will listen.

I have a voice.  I can offer solutions. I can tell stories of what has worked in my classroom and at my school.  I can share thoughts on fellow educators and the amazing work they’re doing.  I can reframe the story from either/or to “yeah, it’s broken, but here’s what’s actually working . . . ”

I have a voice.  I can use it at my school.  I can push alternative assessments and standards-based grading.  I can create meaningful projects.  I can demonstrate why human, humble discipline works better than bribes and extortion.  Ultimately, what I have that Arne Duncan lacks, is a daily connection to the community, the land and the people.

I have a voice.  I can create videos, podcasts and visuals in an effort to articulate a philosophy of education based upon democracy, authenticity and meaning rather than market norms and factory efficiency.  A sketchy video comparing “standardized” and “common” might not hit the mainstream media. However, I can be indie in hopes that when people get fed up with the banal, biased journalism of NBC, they might be open to a new perspective.

I have a voice. I can ask questions.  I can listen quietly with a sense of nuance and paradox.  Oftentimes, I’m still too quick to make a bold statement, knowing that it might get more attention on Twitter.  But, on my better days, I can listen well, learn the language of reformers, engage in respectful dialogue and try and build bridges.

I have a voice.  I can find others with shared ideas and values regarding education.  We can have a voice.  A collective voice.  We can protest.  We can march.  We can stop playing the role of martyrs and start playing the role of leaders in education reform.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


6 thoughts on “I Have a Voice, But What Can I Do?

  1. Voice is indeed a sticky issue John. Your post reminded me of many of the issues raised by the “Subaltern Studies Group” of social-scientists and historians from India beginning in the 80s. They concerned themselves with the paradoxical nature of agency within oppressed groups. How available are the voices to the public? How loud are the voices? Are voices enough? Even if heard, does someone truly have a voice when removed from the foci of power? We are indeed on the fringes of educational society, and our voices are powerful, if not drowned out by the pillars of mediocrity and debasement that is the mainstream media.

    I always liked what you called “indie” teaching, an analogy to indie music and filmmaking. So maybe being “voiceless” within the larger super-powerstructure isn’t such a bad thing. I don’t think we would like the bands we like if they recorded their albums for RCA-victor and had to be less interesting. I don’t think we would like the craft beers we like, if they were brewed in St. Louis at the Budweiser factory with rice and distributed globally. Sometimes being “voiceless” to the masses means you can express your voice better to the people that really matter. Our community (including teachers, students, and anyone who listens) is growing more powerful each time we express not just our dissatisfaction with how things work, but when we participate in building a community that is more sustainable, more democratic and more real-life than the system of ed we see today.

    Here’s a line form a Kimya Dawson song I really like that expresses this in another way:

    “my war paint is sharpie ink and i’ll show you how much my s**t stinks
    and ask you what you think because your thoughts and words are powerful
    they think we’re disposable, well both my thumbs opposable
    are spelled out on a double word and triple letter score”

    I read this as Dawson saying that what we say is indeed an act of power, especially when we also listen to those who express themselves. Additionally, regardless of how people portray us or push us out, we’re still a group of people working for a more just and relevant system for all of us. We’re working for human education. They can’t take that away right?

    Keep up the good work John. When we all participate it’s no longer a voice. It’s a force.

    Posted by mrsenorhill | July 20, 2011, 12:40 pm
    • Hi John, Excellent post:)
      One Voice DOES Count! As I read your words and felt my strong feelings, I realized I often hear myself saying these same words weekly, even daily. Continue with your one voice to write, blog, speak to colleagues, family, friends, participate on Twitter, LinkedIn, even talk with strangers. You desire change; starting a conversation is what leads to change.


      If interested, you and your readers/colleague are encouraged to please join a NEW Tweet Chat created for one purpose, to start a conversation among parents, teachers, counselors and administrators, who want change in K12 education, and then to move the conversation into actions that will be a catalyst for change at local schools nationally/internationally.

      #schools2life Tweet Chat 2nd/4th Thursdays 8-9pmEDT and a schools2life LinkedIn Support Site for longer discussions at

      Thanks John for sharing your one voice. Don’t ever give up! EdC

      Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | July 20, 2011, 2:18 pm
  2. This is so true, often we feel like we are little fish in a big pond, but by taking nibbles and sharing what works for us to others, they begin to ” get it”. Thanks for your heart-felt response and let’s “keep keepin’ on!”

    Posted by Lonni Gill, Ph.D. | July 20, 2011, 12:49 pm
  3. “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. ” J. Krishnamurti. I hope you know (and I know you must) that honest, real writing changes this ‘sick’ world. It is what CoopCatalyst is meant to create–room for conversation. Your voice among our chorus is part of the dark matter that glues us together. Yet…I know how you feel. We value the big nodes and that means attention is ‘paid’ to the Arne Duncans of our profession, but celebrity is not what holds us together. In fact whatever good that lives in schools would still be there if every ed in ‘Who’s Who’ was taken up in an educational rapture.

    Perhaps that is overwrought, but your human voice is a “doing” . It needs to keep doing. If it is all you have, then keep using it. My guess is that your voice will be called upon to act in increasingly overt ways until you will have all the doing that you could want. It made me respond and it makes me expect more from myself AND from you. Keep on and I will be listening. It is a strong voice.

    Posted by tellio | July 21, 2011, 6:44 am
  4. An elegant summation of how we can flip the script from powerlessness to authority, John. I’m with Terry (who was just awesome on the Hangout/webcast last night).

    One thing we did not get to last night was asking questions of one another – I wonder if we shouldn’t do that on the Google Group or even on a post – what do we want to learn or see from each of us in advocacy, teaching, and learning? That might make for an authentic assessment and powerful personal learning plans. What do you think?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 21, 2011, 10:46 am
  5. I echo chad. We should be having constant hangouts on google + so we can check in on each other and learn.

    Posted by mrsenorhill | July 21, 2011, 11:27 am

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