Saturday, October 18, 2014

Writing Beyond the Hoax in Educational Policy. @YohuruWilliams A Need For Staying Connected

Yesterday, Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke to the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, in which CWP-Fairfield is housed. His dialogue - Reclaiming Our Schools: Social Justice in Education - addressed history, the current "reform" (read deform) movement, and the grandiose narrative that is currently being written by a national movement destroying public education. This narrative, as most public school teachers realize, needs to be challenged. Yes, achievement gaps in the nation are horrific but the current solution offered by the 'story they are telling' is short-sighted, self-serving, and extremely destructive.

Williams referenced Thurgood Marshall's influence with Brown vs. The Board of Education, and noted the importance of promoting democracy through teaching citizenship in our schools. The reform movement placed upon teachers, including Common Core State Standards, is not genuine to democratic traditions. Rather, it has been an exercise of monumental bullying by individuals who have political and capital power, but who lack savviness for teaching and differentiating in American schools.

Monday, October 20th, is the National Day on Writing and those of us who remain devoted to the work of the National Writing Project recognize that it is through the power of writing that the greatest changes are made. October is also Connected Educator Month, an exploration of key educational issues through online communities and networks, dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation, as well as bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.

Today, I write as an educator, a proponent of America's public schools, in defense of teachers, and with advocacy for youth and parents across the United States. Dr. Williams addressed the discourse used by individuals such as Arne Duncan, John King, and Michelle Rhee who make claims that "schools are in crisis," "American students are behind the rest of the world," and "Schools and teachers are inadequate for closing the horrendous achievement gaps in our nation."

These claims, as historian and activist Diane Ravitch (2014) writes, are a complete hoax causing insurmountable damage to our schools. Ravitch writes these hoaxes have been perpetrated by policy makers, corporate reformers, and non-educators - falsehoods that have established a state of fear in America's public schools and have undermined the hard work of teachers, administrators, national organizations, and scholars in higher education. The bamboozlement of these individuals is well funded and misguided (see commercials airing nationwide in our urban centers as evidence). According to Ravitch there has been a No Child Left Behind Hoax, The Race To the Top Hoax, The Reformer Hoax, The Private Sector Hoax, The Technology Hoax, The Teaching Profession Hoax, The Teacher Preparation (NCTQ) Hoax, The Teach For America Hoax, The Teacher Evaluation Hoax, The Poverty Does Not Matter Hoax, and The School Choice as a Civil Rights Issue Hoax.

Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke with our department about the claims the tricksters make in regard to Civil Rights and how their "hero/savior" motif is a 21st century form of colonialism. It is derogatory mis-management. In my thinking, the reformers are simulacra of Sylvester McMonkey McBean, a character in Dr. Seuss's cautionary tale, The Star-Bellied Sneetches. In opposition of the hoaxes, Williams nodded his head to the 53,000 educators who have signed up for the Bad Ass Teachers association to provide counterclaims to the paranoia that the so-called "reformers" have used to destroy the infrastructure of public school educators. The de-formers are well-financed, see themselves as CEOs rather than educators, and are more interested in fluffing up their boards than serving the youth of America; it should be noted, too, that Sylvester has many sisters named Sylvia. If only the salaries, commercials, and investments given to these organizations were used as investments to support curriculum in America's schools.

Advocacy must be a community initiative.

Public school educators must stay connected. 

More importantly, however, young people who attend public schools and parents who send their children to them must stay connected in the on-going dialogue to reverse the consequences that are resulting from the hoaxes brought forth by a regime of individuals who are NOT teachers or professionals and who do NOT have knowledge about child development, curriculum, wellness, and effective instructional practices. More times than not, the "reformers" are hubris-oriented, well-intended nincompoops who are tragically wrong with their beliefs.

In the last four years of working in high needs schools, I have witnessed firsthand the negative consequences resulting from a hoax-driven reform movement. My analogy has been that "reformers" have managed to duct tape the mouths of teachers and students, tied their hands behind their backs with thick rope, chopped off their legs at the knee, and asked them to run a marathon in record time. When they have not (or do not) make the required time, the "reformers" then point to the ineffectiveness of individuals (wounded teachers and students) for not reaching the prescribed goal. I have witnessed weekly the ways that public school teachers: rural, suburban, and urban, have been scapegoated for larger societal ills. Programs have been defunded, salaries have been frozen, professional development has been taken away, and arts and electives have been cut. Meanwhile, expectations placed on students have been hijacked by the peculiar objectives stated by the Common Core State Standards. A vast majority of time spent in school has mandated test-only instruction.

I, myself, leave schools feeling alarmed, frustrated, fearful, and sad. I worry that my observations are like those of Cassandra who spoke often but was never believed. At times, I feel like Schindler in the seminal movie, Schindler's List. I find myself remorseful and saying, "I could do more. There's got to be a better way."

I left the classroom in 2007 to pursue a doctorate, not because I wanted to leave the young people I loved working with, but because the mandates coming from above were in direct opposition to what I felt 21st century youth need from public schools. I earned a doctorate to find researched-based ways to fight against educational policies that are unhealthy, misguided, short-sighted, and ridiculous. Seven years later, I am writing this post, only to realize that the nation has also turned its back on research, expertise, and instructional practices (the National Writing Project's story personifies this, but we remain strong. We continue to fight. Applebee and Langer (2013), too, have written about proven methods that work and share the cautionary tale of poorly executed writing instruction in our schools).

Connected teachers need to be at the forefront as a constructive force.

The National Writing Project treated me as a professional when I was still in the classroom. They respected my expertise and invested in me as a passionate individual driven to do my best for all students. The success in my classroom and for my district were many; I look to those days as a guiding force for the work I do now. My quest is to promote writing for social change. Henry Louise Gates (1986), the great post-colonial scholar, wrote that writing is the absolute way for 'righting' the world. The empire must write back.

Our schools need to write back.

We need to fight for the rights of our students. We need to represent the heterogeneity of our classrooms and to help students bring voices to the forefront of these conversations. We must teach our students to be advocates for their learning.

Hmmm, just thinking here.
I have expressed to Dr. Yohuru Williams on numerous occasions that although I have followed the work of Bad Ass Teachers, I have wrestled with their title. Bad Ass, to me, connotes rebelliousness that seems somewhat counterintuitive to the professionalism and work that teachers do. Still, in this current political climate, I feel that teachers need to have a Bad Ass streak within them so they will be heard, defended, supported, and believed. I've played around with the language, but have come to terms with how they have titled their organization because teachers have been silenced in the national school reform movement for way too long. This has been the greatest tragedy for our nation.

Another great tragedy for our nation, just over a decade into the new millennium, is the fact that all disciplines have national standards that have already been created, upheld, and stood by through professional organizations and supportors in higher education (e.g., NCTE,  NCTM, NCAS, NCSS, NSES, etc). These standards have been usurped, however, through the Common Core, a movement that has not been common nor core to those who work in America's public schools. Why wasn't the expertise of LRA or AERA or IRA brought into the conversation on effective practices for working with K-12 youth?

The greatest hoax, still, might be that those of us dedicated to the profession and who work to advance lifelong critical thinking skills will be silenced and will not stand up for what we believe in. This is not true.

We need Ubuntu - "I can be me because of who we are together."

There is tremendous power when many of us stand united to oppose the detrimental consequences that have arrived as a result of politics, greed, and socio-economic realities of the last decades.

The pockets of educators may be shallow, but our minds are deep.

I write today as an advocate for putting the word "professional" back into the teaching profession. America's educators deserve better professional development. Current school meetings about teacher evaluations and data-team mining is a waste of time. Teachers need to teach. It's hard to measure growth when a vast majority of a day is monopolized with benchmark testing, test reviews, tests to practice for more tests and, well, even more testing. There isn't anything to document because content is not being delivered. The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for this and should be ashamed.

Enough is enough.

As Dr. Yohuru Williams advocated yesterday at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, there needs to be more organic conversations and action. We need to involve ourselves in local communities and to fight against the 'outsider' movement and its mission to destroy public schools.

Real teachers talk in faculty rooms every day. They have amazing conversations that transcend the  dialogue of political parties, teacher unions, and corporations. They know what works. They know what they need. They have the brilliance that our nation deserves right now, but too many of the greatest ideas go unheard because teachers, as a profession, have not written or spoken up enough.

Teachers owe advocacy to their students. They owe it to democracy. But, more important, they owe it to themselves to show the naysayers that they are educated, driven, hardworking, and innovative individuals.

They gotta write! Ai'ght?

And, we owe it to the profession to keep one another in check. Listen to the kids. They have insight on what we need to do next.

It's time to take back the narrative.

Applebee, A. N., & Langer, J. (2013). Writing Instruction That Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gates, H. L. (1986/2006). Writing Race. In B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths & H. Tifflin (Eds.), The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (pp. 216-218). New York: Rutledge.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Hoaxes in educational policy. The Teacher Educator, 49:3, 153-165, DOI:  

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article and summation of the current climate in Education. Kudos to Dr.Williams for bringing the truth to light for the higher ed community and for being BadAss in the best sense of the word. Thank you both!