17 October 2010

Tom Whitby's Blogging Day: Insist on Change

Tom Whitby's Reform Wallwisher for Today

"Re - Form" 

Perhaps the problem lies in our definitions -
  1. To put into a new and improved form or condition; to restore to a former good state, or bring from bad to good; to change from worse to better; to amend; to correct; as, to reform a profligate man; to reform corrupt manners or morals.
  2. To return to a good state; to amend or correct one's own character or habits; as, a person of settled habits of vice will seldom reform.
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To form again or in a new configuration. Wiktionary
Because we can not, as some politicians and educators think, "restore [American or British-style schools] to a former good state," or "correct it," or, as Arne Duncan or Bill Gates imagines, "reform corrupt manners or morals." Our educational systems have not "gotten bad" through unionization or lowered standards or through poor public management...

They were, as I wrote last month (over 5 posts), designed from the very start to fail at least 75% of their students. If they are now failing just 60% or 65%, they are remarkably over-achieving. Something I attribute to many great teachers and great public school administrators.

Schools are not "failing" because of teaching quality, or some bizarre concocted view of 'lack of competition,' or even because of insufficient teacher education. They are failing because we are pursuing an absurd concept of education. It was evil when it was constructed originally - designed to keep people down. It is absurd now, because, as nations, though we know better, we continue to maintain a structure which only works to make our nations 'banana republics' where only the offspring of Gates, Duncan, Cameron, Clegg, et al will succeed.

So, we must insist on change. Actual, fundamental change.

Politics: These changes will be difficult, but they are necessary choices. And perhaps they begin with the need for everyone concerned about education to vote, and to vote straight Democratic in the US midterm elections. Now this sounds odd, Obama has been no friend to schools, or teachers, or students. And yet, efforts to "punish" the US Democrats, like the desire to "punish" Labour in the UK or Labor in Australia, will backfire. Unless you are a dedicated Leninist, you really don't want to move your nation "forward" by bringing on right-wing chaos in hopes of sparking a revolution.

Let's face it, we cannot begin to conceive a more fair, more inclusive, more inspired educational structure without building a fairer, more inclusive, more inspired economic structure, as TheJLV pointed out so well recently. Kids who are hungry because of cuts in the social safety net, or sick because even minimal health care reforms are rolled back, or have parents locked up in re-education camps (as New York's Republican gubernatorial candidate suggests), are nowhere. As are teachers with support structures and school construction programs gutted. Nor will we fix anything by giving tax cuts to Goldman-Sachs executives and letting them decide which schools to support.

So, first, as the UK is learning in horrible fashion, as Australia barely averted, first, keep the nation moving left. Then, pressure that left to act in the best interests of children.

And we do that by being much more involved, and much more continually involved. By pressuring candidates, by becoming candidates, by grouping contributions so we cannot be ignored, by doing - for example - exactly what "we" did in the Democratic primaries in DC and New York - tossing out DFER supported and other faux progressives when we're not handing elections to right-wingers or their collaborators (remember, even the most "moderate" US Republican - Maine's Susan Collins, stripped massive amounts of school funding from the stimulus package in 2009 - it was her one "accomplishment" of this congressional term).

Next, where you can, elect your school boards. Do not accept candidates who don't understand the needs for fundamental change.

Teacher Education: We need teacher preparation programs to run fundamentally different laboratory schools, which train new teachers in radical new ways of thinking. These laboratory schools need to truly experiment, but they must start by undoing our 19th Century paradigms. The age-based grades, grading systems, classrooms, subject separations, industrial blocks of time. It is these structures which have failed, these technologies, these visions of what "teaching" is. And so we must train our next generation of teachers in totally new conceptions of education.

We also need history and philosophy as major, inherent parts of our teacher education programs. We need to understand why the systems in which our future teachers succeeded is so horribly wrong. That is difficult to talk about, but there are no shortcuts here.

Each teacher: Each educator, on the ground, must push the envelope as far as possible within their environment. There are no shortage of examples, whether your environment is supportive, or insane. Years ago, I'm thinking early 1970s, my mother, a third-grade teacher, somehow harrassed her principal until he let her knock down walls separating classrooms so she and others could create a vast multi-age classroom. She somehow got the space carpeted and threw out the desks and chairs. The school did not really transform around her, but the kids in that space did fabulously. I still get messages through facebook from former students who want to thank her.

My 'Neil Postman' alternative high school was pushed into existence by one Junior High English teacher (and union leader) who just wouldn't let kids get pushed out of school.

Every day I talk to teachers fighting for their kids - fighting for the freedom to do what is right for their kids.

I know teaching is difficult enough, but this is 'war time,' and we somehow have to do more.

Each parent: You have to fight for the change you need, but you have to understand that the change we need does not look like the schools we have now. I don't care how well you did, or how rosy your recollections. The evidence is clear, this system doesn't work for us - our society - and we have a moral obligation to truly "re-form" it. To start again, to create something which creates opportunities and possibilities for all.

Parents, I know you - first and foremost - want to protect your children. Obviously. But we must be better than that. We must want to protect - and enable - all of our children.

Insist on change. Real change.

And join us for the next day of Blogging for Real Reform on November 22.

- Ira Socol


Anonymous said...

How can you support Obama, or any Dem, who pursues policies that in many ways are further right than Bush's education policies? You are wrong to think Dems represent the left anymore. They do not. A vote for Dems is a vote for corporate funded public education. Some GOP strains are actually closer to your position on this issue. Vote on the issue, not the party. You want fundamental change, you need to make fundamental changes to your thinking. I say this as a far left person. Obama is worse than Bush on education. You know it is true.

irasocol said...

Americans have such a funny romantic view of party. So you, proclaiming yourself far left, will dump health care improvements, deny child health care, embrace privatized firefighting, and crush any shot at social justice because you're angry with Arne Duncan?

As I said - visit the UK next year. You'll understand.

Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

I would not "proclaim" myself far left unless I believed in full, free, health care coverage for all. And I can not support Obama funding a rise in standardized testing. You yourself just posted a video which discussed how we need to make fundamental changes to education and you are then willing to belittle my position by simply saying I am "angry" at Duncan and so am willing to end social justice? I am not angry at Duncan, I find his position harmful. I understand some vote by strategy and some vote their heart. You are clearly the former and I the later. And finally, my wife is from the UK, not that it matters, but since you mention I should travel to the UK, I wanted to provide that detail. We get the politicians we deserve. And we deserve someone like Obama right now if someone like you gets so mad at someone like me for simply suggesting we should vote our position.

irasocol said...

You are mistaking frustration for anger Anon.

And you are mistaking "angry response" for "voting for a position."

Understand the need for system change first in politics. In both the US and UK - and Canada - with First Past The Post voting, you don't get to "vote your position." We can look at Canada, with 3 "left" parties splitting 65% of the vote in the last election and a Conservative government which rules by decree.

This was the whole problem with the American "left" and the whole Ralph Nader nonsense. If Nader and his 2000 fans had put their energy into changing election rules in the US, that would have been one thing. Instead, they elected George W. Bush. Talk about getting the politicians we deserve.

So, in politics, like education - you need to do the real work first, so you can make your statements later. The US right now only has 3 states which even allow "Fusion" voting. Most US states - via ballot access laws - make other political entities almost impossible. No state has a parliamentary system, much less Single Transferrable Votes or Multi-Member Constituencies. And those are the only circumstances which make "voting your position" possible.

So, if you object to your leaders, work to change the flawed 18th Century way they are selected. Don't say "Obama isn't 'left' enough so I'd prefer John Boehner."

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

I understand our democracy. And as a DC resident, I do not even get to vote for congressional representation. But after working under Rhee, a democrat, for 3 years and watching Obama support her, I am sorry, I am done with supporting this nonsense with my vote. I fight in every other way I can, but I refuse to vote FOR this mess anymore.

Anyway, thanks for chatting.....

Cereus Sphinx said...

I totally agree with you, it does get better. But we also need to make it better now. There's no reason why it's as bad as it is.

There's another project inspired by It Gets Better and making it better now:


Cereus Sphinx said...

The above was a mispost... feel free to delete. I've got it on the right post now.