Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Kids Are All Right!

I went to the Save Our Schools March--500 miles, a few Guinnesses, and many smiles later, I have the obligatory report.

I'm not going to blow sunshine up your colon, though there was plenty of sun to spare. I am going to focus on the huge positives, then ask the old folk to step back--yes, even you, Ms. Ravitch. We had our turn in the sun.

Teacher Ken wrote a long piece in Daily Kos about how tired he is. He may well be tired, and justifiably so. Time to pass the torch.

I love Jonathan Kozol, but this isn't about what we did decades ago. Jonathan Kozol made an impassioned speech, and I'm going to catch flak for this, but his references to Dr. King came off (to my ears, anyway) a tad patronizing. I understand the temptation--Arne Duncan plays the race card.

(In polite company I hear people say someone's behavior is "bordering on racism." Nope. That's racism. And Arne's words border on racism. I don't get invited to parties often.) Arne has maintained that we are racists for pointing out that zip codes, ahem, do matter. And here we go again, watching powerful pale people trot out various connections. It was much easier when "Some of my friends are black" did not degenerate into the sophisticated code that exists today.

Dr. King was 39 when he was cut down, JFK was 46, Shabazz 39, Bobby Kennedy 42. From my perspective now, they were all young men. The leaders of their time sought advice from the elders, but the younger folks led.

Jose Vilson's words (This is not a test!) electrified us Saturday. Matt Damon's speech cut to the chase, pointing out exactly why the testing madness cuts down children. John Kuhn (I will teach these kids!) reminded us why public schools are truly democratic. These are the voices we must follow now. We had our turn. Crotchety never beats evil. Hope and energy have a chance, though.

Things may a bit bleak to some of us, but the best speakers aren't resting on their laurels, they're out there fighting the good fight.

Toss the taped Jon Stewart speeches, leave the elders to counsel if counseling is sought. We can share our stories and compare our war wounds at Old Ebbit Grill, and watch our children show us the way.

I had a chance to listen to a few young'uns at Old Ebbit Grill--the future is in very capable hands.


John T. Spencer said...

Very cool speech from Jose Vilson. I wish I could have been there in person. I really enjoy his writing. It was great to hear his voice.

I think it's important for veterans to have a voice. Perhaps not THE voice, but a key voice reminding those who are young (like myself?) about the continuity of history, the larger narrative and the larger cost of the battle.

I have been a loud opponent to standardized testing. I have been arguing for authentic reform. I have screamed for a more humble approach (which seems a bit paradoxical). I have done my best to make my voice heard. And yet, I often grow frustrated by the fact that I am limited to the audience of a small band of fellow teacher-bloggers.

Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that it's our voice, not mine, and that it's a chorus not a solo.

Often what I fail to mention enough is this: Teaching is an amazing gig. I wake up every morning wondering how lucky I am to get to do this - especially given the number of mistakes I make. I want a reform, not because I am dissatisfied with teaching, but because I love this gig so much.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Oh, I think the veteran's should have a voice--I think it's time to recognize that those in their 30's and 40's are the veterans.

Had it been a brisk October afternoon, the number of speeches would have been less of an issue. On a 95 degree humid mid-day July, a few strong succinct voices sticking to the message was more than enough to warm us up for the march.

PFE said...

I didn't scan the audience for young vs old. I was so hot and we were somewhat disguised in hot weather wear (shades and hats and the like). I attended the conference and I think it was about equal for the participants but the presenters were definitely veterans. I'm old but just finding my voice as an activist teacher. When I was younger I was preoccupied...those are the years that we're getting married, raising kids, getting mortgages...Interesting perspective. Thanks!

doyle said...

Dear PFE,

I may be a bit too cranky here--I fear the gist of the post got lost as I edited (and edited and edited) out more, um, vibrant words.

I am talking specifically about the panel of speakers. We got way off message at times. This is not about unions, this is not specifically about teachers pay, or working conditions, or about how hard we work. (Yes, I get that those are necessary pieces, but does anybody hear how whiny we sound when we place our needs ahead of our ideals?)

This is about educating children, this is about democracy, this is about misplaced power. The core principles developed by the committee were wonderfully succinct and on point.

We don't need to preach to each other--we need more Matt Damons reminding people what matters in public education.

Maybe the younger voices are that much stronger because they are the ones prioritizing their lives around the things you mentioned. People like me, with adult children, we can go to rallies without making true sacrifices. Heck, it could become a hobby.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be activists--I'm just saying we need to cede our pasts to those with more of a future.

Thanks for dropping by!

Jenny said...

I'm reassured to know there are young folks (youngish, at least) stepping up to the plate. Watching Jose and John gave me a lot of hope. They are brilliant and full of passion about the future of education. I enjoyed the older folks but I was surprised to find that Jose and John were my favorites.

How do folks like you fit in that? You haven't been in this biz as long as I have so you're young in that sense. But you bring such a powerful background to the discussion. Your voice is a powerful one, one we need.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

That's a really good question.

While in medicine, I worked for kids beyond just the medicine part--indeed, children's health is more a matter of socioeconomic class than anything else except vaccines. Injustice maims minds.

So I had my battles.

I do not have energy I did 20 years ago--the flame still burns, and I'm still pretty active, but we need the youthful charge of you and Jose and John.

Again, I may have been a bit too curmudgeonly--Kozol's speech was fine, but I thought the day was too hot for all the tangents he and others shared.

I'm writing a guest column for a local paper, I'll be yakking with other teachers, I'll be more active letting parents know just what's happening.

But mostly I'll teach.

Jenny said...

Mostly we all have to teach. It's why we're in this business. It sounds like you've got plans for pushing a bit. If we were all doing that much I think we would be in a very different place.

I completely agree about most of the speeches. They sound better to me now, at home in the AC, than they did in the heat on Saturday. Jose and John and Matt were the ones that worked, even in that heat. And I went wanting to see Deborah Meier and Jonathon Kozol.

I'm glad for the relative quiet of August to figure out where to go next, how to use my voice most effectively.