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Less Yelling, More Talking in 2014

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Is it okay to be this tired at New Year's?

I don't remember it ever being so exhausting to be an educator. I don't mean the lesson plans, the grading, the interactions with students and colleagues. I mean, just being part of this profession.

Once upon a time I woke up, suited up for school, and went off to class with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. There were students, classes, advisees, teams to be coached, curriculum to be designed, homework to be assigned to students and then rebounded to me. I went to sleep tired but eager to rise and do it again.

In 2013 I'm what we call a connected educator. I have my PLN, my Twitter feed scrolls like the credits from an epic film, and I have my go-to spots in the blogosphere as well as my own self-imposed deadlines to meet. There's a huge stockpile of great ideas and great resources ready for me at the click of a mouse. This in itself can all feel exhausting, but at the same time, it's exhilarating.

But then there's the anger.

Fortunately, no one is very angry with me (that I know of), but, holy cats--the issues there are to be angry about!

Between the Common Core, "value-added" teacher evaluation, international standardized test results, and, well, just the Gates Foundation all by itself, apparently, I encounter a growing body of writers (with whom I often fundamentally agree) tripping over themselves to come up with ever more vituperative language and ever more lurid analogies, ad hominem attacks, and apocalyptic predictions. The world of education, once a generally peaceable place where students, teachers, and families abided together, is now apparently beset by evils conspired into being by Hell itself. Too many people whose instincts ought to be better have taken to heart the vicious lessons of extremist talk radio or adopted as serious stances the rhetorical excesses of satirists.

There are plenty of things about educational policy that make me unhappy, from the wholesale mistreatment of teachers under shoddy evaluation schemes to the wholesale over-testing of kids and the wholesale underfunding of schools. I'm stunned by our societal willingness to accept horrifying levels of poverty while not acknowledging that the gulf between rich and poor is self-evidently the basis of the gap between our national potential and our ability to realize it. The rich get richer and the poor are getting poorer, and it galls me when leaders just shrug and decree that any educational corollary of that signal fact is a reflection on schools and teachers, not on misguided national priorities.

Aspects of our enthusiasms of the moment in educational practice concern me, too. Are we over-relying on technology or trendy approaches to curriculum and assessment (some that I've been pushing myself for years) to the point where we're losing something essential in the nature of school? Are we as wrong about, say, flipped classrooms as we once were about open ones? Are we doing enough to help kids develop ethics and empathy? Are our worship of entrepreneurship and innovation detached from social purpose and our frantic focus on preparing kids for some fanciful future workplace stunting the development of their characters?

But I am at a loss to explain how these issues are going to be resolved or even brought under productive discussion when too many of the blog posts I read and too many of the tweets crawling past my eyeballs are expressions, however thoughtful and articulate, of rage.

I understand that helplessness often speaks in a voice of fury. It is terrifying and overwhelming even to speculate on the proposition that we face a vast conspiracy to weaken public education in order to further concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the few; for those who see it this way, perhaps only impotent rage remains.

But I would like to believe that there is a way through, a way out. I like to believe that the right conversation can yet begin, among the right people--people both optimistic and without particular axes to grind or ideologies to espouse--a conversation in which people of good will enlist themselves until we can set aside our anger and bitter words to focus on the future of children. Who are these people? Maybe it's time to start asking around.

Because I'm just tired of the anger. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Let's stop yelling and figure out how to start talking. That'd be a pretty nice New Year's resolution.

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