I’ve had some hard conversations about my original post on the Oppressive Schools letter. A colleague posted a comment that captures a lot of the details of these conversations and it’s worth reading. I thought about editing my first post but I actually think the distinction in how I would communicate about these ideas in light of the conversations is worth preserving. These are hard subjects to address, these are hard conversations to have. That is the whole point. But it’s worth documenting that dialogue allows for growth. In that spirit, I’m posting here something that I think better captures what I’ve learned and where I stand. *********** 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 the authors of the letter, 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 is so troublesome for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I care deeply about words and how they are used. They also know I care about the intentions of leaders and educators, and the words “oppressive” and “dehumanizing” are strong words that seem, at first, to not leave much room for good intent. When spoken out loud or even written, these words feel like a judgment of character. They often serve to make people defensive and/or shut down. I struggled with signing my name to language that would make people disengage from the constructive conversation and action that can move us towards improving systems. Through my conversations, though, I have come to understand that the authors also care deeply about words and how they are used, and they chose their words deliberately. A[…]
A month went by fast, and I will be the first to admit that it has been both a painful and hopeful learning process. A painful process because I am feeling a little less trust in this community. A little less trust that people presume best intentions – something I am guilty of not doing and certainly something that I have felt on the receiving end of this last month. But hopeful because I have met some really wonderful individuals who have given of their time, talents and resources to try and ensure that this process remains as productive as possible for the sake of our larger community and the larger goals we share.
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.