Saving Democracy: Garfield and Ballard’s Examples
January 12, 2013 6 Comments
This is Part Three in the This is How Democracy Ends series (and no, I don’t think the title is an exaggeration). I was going to start listing some ways to avoid or correct the problems inherent with teaching to the Common Core and standardized tests, but good timing by two heroic groups of high school teachers gave us the answers we were looking for. There are two big and important actions that these two schools showed us in 24 hours–and we should all follow suit.
1. Get together and talk
Many, many teachers are telling me that they are not really “allowed” to talk to each other during the school day anymore. Lunch breaks are now spent on duty in the cafeteria, prep times are being taken away by an increasing number of meaningless meetings, and even after school time is being taken by mandated tutoring and “recovery” time. We are so micromanaged now, it’s not only annoying, it’s also counterproductive to our practice. I don’t think this is an accident; I think this was a careful move by state leaders and their corporate buddies to make sure we don’t talk about how badly things are getting.
In isolation, teachers are quiet, cooperative, and easy to string along.
But, the teachers in Seattle’s Garfield and Ballard High Schools obviously talked. A lot. When we get together and talk, we start to do what we do best: collaborate, expand our thoughts, and plan and implement meaningful action. When we’re not lorded over by administration, we are free, creative, and brave. These two high schools have shown us what kind of difference that can truly make. One teacher taking action is silent and easy to cover up as insubordination. Many teachers taking action is a little harder to bury.
2. Stand up for your kids and deny the system
The debate on how to fix the damage from the ongoing and profit-motivated education reform has raged on, and has taken so many different roads, that the problem seems overwhelming. However, there is a line from one of my favorite documentaries that states–and I’m paraphrasing here–the only way the system will stop working is if those opposed to it refuse to participate.
In other words, if we want the damage from Common Core State Standards and standardized tests to stop; if we want the onslaught of standardized tests, which are hurting our kids and their abilities to grow into creative, productive, and thoughtful adults; if we want teachers to be respected again as professionals, then we must stop participating in this Twilight Zone known as Race to the Top.
These two high schools did what many of us wanted to do, but we feared the consequences. They deserve our support, our solidarity, and our protection. They will face backlash. They will face slurs and falsities from the media to make them look like thugs and hooligans. They will no doubt be called lazy and ineffective and whatever else Michelle Rhee and her camp of teacher-haters can dream up.
The fact is, once again, public school teachers have risen to the challenge of saving our kids. This time, it wasn’t bullets or fire or tornadoes or earthquakes or strangers or drugs or bullies or any of the other things teachers work hard every day to keep in control. This time, it was their education, their learning, their love of life, and their potential for the future.
Bravo, brothers and sisters from Seattle, Washington. We are with you, and we will carry your courage and action in our hearts as we fight on alongside you.