Tuesday, April 28, 2015

10 Takeaways from the Network for Public Education Conference


In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of an ideological battle over the purpose of schooling. Those of us who see the potential of education to make society more democratic and equitable convened for two days in Chicago to listen, learn, connect, and strategize. Despite the onslaught of negative forces, in particular the worsening racial and economic segregation, political polarization and the lack of trust that enables pure vitriol toward educators, and our addiction to testing and competition, there are some positive signs that I wish to focus on to help the momentum of our movement to save public education.

Before I continue with my list, I must say that my optimism was fueled by seeing the absolutely incredible art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works. I have seen a lot of art exhibits in my lifetime, but this one is really something special. Exquisitely curated with contextual material that enriches your understanding of the work, the artist, and the historical period, there are also commissioned poems and linked events happening that enhance the ways in which Lawrence’s works have an enduring resonance. Spend a wonderful hour watching Migration Rhapsody, hosted by Terrence McKnight, a performance I attended at MOMA last Thursday. Then explore the Lawrence paintings one by one through MOMA’s website. Your understanding of this American masterpiece, and this history of oppression and resistance will inspire and uplift you.

    1. PROVIDE HELP AND SUPPORT TO SCHOOLS, TEACHERS AND STUDENTS. The brutality of the “turnaround” notion for schools mislabeled “failing” is undeniable and devastating. Use findings from research and projects such as NEPC’s Closing the Opportunity Gap that detail what is working to assist schools and to generate a spirit of collaboration. We need less ranking and more recognition of the good work going on that is not going to show up on the meaningless test scores. José Vilson  advised, “Be more caring, do not forget to thank one another.” I say amen to that.
    2. BUILD MORE WAYS TO TALK ABOUT RACE AND RACIAL ISSUES. Regardless of your own identity, you can and must be willing to engage others in open, honest conversations that help build multiple perspectives and reduce the racist clichés. A good place to start is with Mica Pollock’s  book Everyday Antiracism. 
    3. DEVELOP A BIG VOICE. José Vilson explained in his interview with Jennifer Berkshire and Peter Greene that he is an introvert, but learned to embrace a big voice in his writing, grateful that he has been able to make people feel something. We must break the complacency and passivity if we are to engage the people power necessary to move forward.
    4. TEACH AND MODEL CIVILITY. In person and online, be your best possible self to sustain and grow advocacy for public education. If we are above reproach, we will prevail. Critique ideas, not people. In the end, it makes for more persuasive reasons to reject all the negativity and personal attacks of others.
    5. THINK STAR TREK. Boldly go, seek out new frontiers. Get out of your comfort zone. Stefanie Keiles, a parent activist in Ann Arbor, and co-organizer of a Michigan rally event two years ago , said she began attending meetings of Republican lawmakers, despite being the only Democrat. They began to recognize her expertise in education and she invited them to visit her school for a whole day. That’s how you make a difference.
    6. JUST SAY NO. Refuse the tests. As Mark Naison has said, “Stop the data train by any means necessary.”
    7. SWAMP THE MEDIA. Write letters, editorials, blogs, articles, get interviewed, use social media to pass on and promote your good ideas. Karen Lewis said in her interview with Diane Ravitch that we don’t have the money for airwaves and ads, but we have people power. Social media, it turns out, can bring ideas from the margin to the mainstream. We must coordinate our efforts.
Courtesy Network for Public Education
   8. DISSEMINATE STORIES, IMAGES, AND VIDEOS OF TEACHING. The work that goes on in schools is often invisible to the public, and we must work hard to debunk the prevalent myths of bad teaching. Use documentaries such as the excellent Go Public produced by James and Dawn O’Keefe about a day in the life of the Pasadena Unified School District to spark discussion and dialogue. Remember the Humans of New York story about the student Vidal, and his principal, Ms. Lopez from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn? That raised over a million dollars.   

Courtesy Humans of New York
    9. PAY ATTENTION TO THE CORPORATE REFORMERS. It can turn your stomach at times, but as filmmaker Brian Malone said, “They can’t hide from the money trail.” Be inspired by Bill Moyers and his tireless crusade for the truth. Mercedes Schneider offered a practical tip when searching the internet: use “pdf” and you will discover hidden documents from archives that don’t turn up in other searches.

    10. STOP USING SCARY TERMS. Educational jargon is rife with them: underperforming, struggling, failing, data-driven, evidence-based, effectiveness, best practice. Eliminate them from your vocabulary. This was the excellent advice of Yong Zhao, who rightly reminded everyone that “every talent is useful.”

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