I said it would be a week before I posted on the Oppressive Schools letter and it’s been longer than that. The honest truth is that I struggled about whether or not to sign my name to it; the back-and-forth in my mind and heart has led to lost sleep and moments of anxiety. It’s been hard to put my finger on exactly what the issue has been and I am thankful for the chance to talk with friends, and even strangers, about that question because it has helped me clarify my thinking around why signing onto this particular articulation of the problem didn’t fit for me.
Last Wednesday evening was one of those nights when I was struck by what it means to really be an ally for those who don’t feel they have power or voice. I live in Denver, CO, a wonderful city on many levels. As is the case with many wonderful cities, its benefits are sometimes its drawbacks. This feels true in many sectors, and the education sector is no different. I feel lucky to have had the chance to get to know and work with and alongside many amazing people who are all committed to doing what they think is best for children. I don’t agree with people on everything but I do appreciate that everyone believes they are working towards a better system. However, Denver is a small city or a big town – take your pick. Over the last seven years I have watched the same roster of players fill different leadership roles in the education community, and being able to work with others and not rock the boat becomes a bit of a pre-requisite in that type of environment.
I took the summer off. Not from thinking, but from writing. Because honestly, who can manage to be disciplined when the kids are out of school? ☺ But welcome back to the Third Rail. Even though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and interviewing and have a whole host of fun issues to dig into. So let’s start with an easy one.
Since becoming a mother I have come to realize that one of the most powerful statement of my values comes in the choices I make about and for my children. I give far more thought to the food I buy for my sons than I did when I was making choices about my own food habits. I think a lot more about the music I listen to, the words I use, and the habits I model than I did when they were not watching me. Somehow knowing that my choices have an impact on them makes me pause and choose more thoughtfully to ensure that my choices match my deepest values.
This was such a poignant interview, but as I listened to Sue Klebold talk about her son’s mental state toward the end of his life I was reminded of an on-going concern I have as the issue of mental health becomes a talking point for politicians, schools, parents and communities.
Success Academy was obviously not happy with this publicity. There has been a lot recently. But it is always framed as one teacher or one leader or one school simply not reflecting the network’s values. It’s not clear to me why this excuse is accepted. It is these the same people who rage that such things happening in “normal” schools is reflective of a general culture in the “normal” system or people wed to the status quo who don’t want to admit that what they do doesn’t work.
I was troubled by David Brooks’ column this weekend about communities of character and the schools that he uses as examples of institutions that intentionally focus on building students’ characters. I also had a conversation on Tuesday with someone who used the term “character-driven” to refer to schools like KIPP, Success Academy and the Denver School for Science and Technology (which I reference here only because it was highlighted in Brooks’ article). Given some recent schools visits I have been making, including to a Success Academy school in New York, I am worried that these college prep charter schools are now being held up as examples of schools that nurture and promote character.
Someone asked me exactly who I meant when I used this term, and it’s a fair question. I intentionally put the phrase in quotes for the purposes of my open letter because it has been used over time by dozens of different groups committed to changing the US education system from whatever happened to be the prevailing approach at the time.
Today, however, I am using it in the way that it is used as a self-identification term by a group of individuals in the education policy space who adhere to a general set of ideas about what approaches and policy levers should be used to create meaningful change in education. It is a diverse camp that pulls together individuals and groups that often believe in the same solutions but for very different reasons. An example would be charter schools, an idea appealing to both Democrats and Republicans for related but perhaps ultimately different goals.
I have been watching the opt-out movement across the US with fascination. What I find most remarkable is the reaction of many in the education reform community to the growing chorus of voices pushing back on current reforms. Many of us have been worried about the direction of reform for years, but it was easy to ignore us as naysayers. Now that students and parents have taken matters into their own hands and pundits like John Oliver have taken up the cause the concerns are not as easy to ignore.
But what I find astounding is that many in the education reform community still don’t get it. Sure there are small elements of this movement that are about conspiracy theorists trying to claim “government intrusion” into state education affairs.
I’m having a lovely weekend with a friend who is expecting her first baby this summer. My friend and her husband are in the process of name selection and she was sharing with me the challenge she is having figuring out how to have the name reflect both her and her husband’s family. It is a struggle I think many of us have had, as more women elect to keep their maiden names after getting married. Whose last name does the baby get? Do you hyphenate and let the child make the hard choice about which name to keep when he grows up? Do you have one parent’s last name be the middle name knowing that most people don’t use their middle name, thereby making that name less important? Do you make up a new name? It’s a bit mind-boggling.