Teacher in a Strange Land: Best Blogs of 2016
If you had told me—on New Year's Day, 2016—that we would end the year with Donald Trump headed to the White House (at least occasionally, to govern, if not to live) with Betsy DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education, well... it's hard to finish this sentence. Almost as hard as it's been to contemplate the state of public education in the land of the free in the upcoming four years.
I'm not big on year-end "best of" reviews, prognostications, and summaries. They tend to accentuate our focus on immediate issues and au courant editorial pieces or grant-funded reports, rather than the work of bending the long arc of the education universe. Teachers and school leaders really can't see over the horizon. We're prone to "staying the course," trusting in our time-honored traditions or favored reforms, even when the results are mediocre or lousy. Like all Americans, we are hooked on novelty while simultaneously resisting fundamental change.
So, the blog title is a fudge, if "best" means most-read, most-commented, most visibility. I don't care much about the numbers. These represent the pieces I think are most worth a re-read (or initial read). Blogs based on emerging or settled truths in education: Charters aren't the answer. Women are disrespected even in a field where they're a huge majority. We still don't know what "teacher leadership" looks like—or might accomplish. Standards may shape practice, but they don't automatically raise achievement. Competition and marketing aren't the answer, either. And the future of public education is in serious jeopardy.
With our new national focus on "choice," states deserve to hear the truth: "All the good intentions in the world cannot override the conversion of a long-established public good into a profit-making commodity." And who better to share their experience than teachers and school leaders in Michigan, where charter schools are largely unregulated and largely unsuccessful?
Public Education vs. Charter Schools: A Tale of Two Cities
Seven Things I Learned from Attending a Charter School Board Meeting
Advanced-Stage Charter Syndrome: What Maturity Means to the Charter Movement
Terminal Charterism: The View from Michigan
Women represent some 80 percent of the teaching force. Why are they still a minority voice in leadership? "Election events in 2016 caused residual anger and shame to bubble up for many women. Every woman can relate to that anger and shame. We're talking about a real thing, a core issue in American society, and American schools. Such revelations might be a silver lining in a detestable political season."
Has the expertise and energy of accomplished teachers been squandered? "Pushing teacher leadership into the "practice" box and narrowing its scope to jazzed-up instructional strategies and "measuring" learning is precisely where "reformers" would like to lead us. Notice who is being influenced in the definition—not policy-makers, the media or the general public. Stay in that classroom, teacher. Someone else will make the big decisions that shape your work."
ISSUES OF PRACTICE
These are the core of teachers' work—or should be. "We can argue about instructional, curricular and assessment issues—it's my professional wheelhouse—but the Common Core is not what has broken public education. It's the accountability movement and austerity funding. And maybe, in some states, a craven disregard for the children of the poor."
THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
"People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think."
The BLOG I WISH MORE PEOPLE HAD READ
I posted this blog about a week after the election, and it sank like a stone in the flood of postings about the direction the country and its public schools were headed. It was too long and too detailed for a blog to be widely shared and discussed, especially during that week. It had a boring title.
But as I was writing it, the hair on my arms started to stand up. And, about a week after it had been published and ignored, a woman on Twitter who attended elementary school in Germany sent me an extended private message, saying that the blog was accurate—it reflected her experience as a child, learning about national guilt and reparations. She wrote that her relatives, living in Germany, have been urging to return. She was feeling what I was feeling.
"Public education functions as a stage where Americans test and play out their deepest values and convictions. Quoting Hitler: 'He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.'"