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Teacher in a Strange Land: The Best and Worst of 2017

The Grateful Dead had it right: What a long, strange trip it's been.

I recently had the opportunity to meet a newly minted state Teacher of the Year. I told him I had a blog at Education Week Teacher, and he asked what I wrote about. Oh, you know, I said. The ongoing collapse of public education and vicious, unwarranted attacks on teachers across the country.

He laughed. But I didn't. After a pause, he asked: Do you really think it's worse now than it's ever been?

I've been thinking about that question, a lot, in preparation for assembling this "best of" collection for 2017. Has the landscape changed so drastically? Haven't there always been good times and bad times in the evolution of teaching and public education, peaks and valleys?

Also this—how does my blogger perspective, from 40+ years in public education, differ from that of a younger teacher, one whose career has always been marked by mandated standards, comparative high-stakes test data, technology-infused instruction and the ravaging of public education under the aegis of "choice?"

Looking back over what's appeared on this blog in 2017, there's a lot of grumpiness and angst. Nobody knows better than I that angst is not what teachers, parents and school leaders are looking for in their op-ed/blog reading. Inspiration, perhaps—or confirmation that their observations and ideas are shared. New information and insights about current issues. Thoughts about coping, adapting, revising—it's what teachers do, and have always done.

But this has been an extraordinary year—I really DO think it's worse than it's ever been, from my perch of over four decades' experience. The entire realm of education policy is up for grabs (and grabs is the correct word). Here's my selection of don't-miss Teacher in a Strange Land blogs from the end of 2017—the best of the worst year in memory:

Misguided Things People Say about Public Schools  A look at the "fake news," and low-information blah-blah about public education that has been part and parcel of conversations about community schools since forever, now intensified and heightened (and made actionable) under Betsy DeVos.

What 'Hillbilly Elegy' Doesn't Say Lots of people liked this book, found it enlightening. Not me. Perhaps my own background was closer to J.D. Vance's than the educators and reviewers who saw it as a must-read, but I found the book somewhere between self-indulgent and poorly argued.

4 Reasons the Arts are the Most Important Academic Discipline Almost everyone—from STEAM advocates to the president of the local PTA—pays lip service to 'why we need the arts.' Many of those reasons are superficial. A solid arts program provides lenses through which any child can understand his or her world. The arts are "core" in any curriculum.

Why We Shouldn't Ignore Political Speech on Facebook  A call to arms for teachers: Don't retire or retreat or pretend that schools—yes, your school, too—aren't endangered. We are living in different times. The stakes are high.

What It Takes for Families to Support Public Education A semi-nostalgic look at how widespread post-war support for building and supporting public schools for all citizens has eroded in favor of 'choice.'  

The Many Ways We Are De-professionalizing Teaching Just who is controlling the entry bar into teaching? What are their values—and are they getting us closer to the teachers we need? I'm doubtful.

Can We Trust Policymakers to Make Good Decisions for Schools?  Bottom line: probably not. Because it's not in their skill set, for the most part. So what do we do to prevent still more bad decisions?

Do Perks for Teachers Compromise Their Integrity? It's hard to begrudge teachers, who work at the low end of compensation/perk levels, any small tangible token acknowledging superior performance or above-and-beyond effort. But what about stipends and awards that take advantage of this fact, co-opting the voices and skills of teacher leaders?

Should 5th Graders Be Studying the KKK? Yes. Because of every non-normal thing that has happened in 2017. Not everyone agrees, of course.

Talking about Public Education: the Good, the Deceptive and the Destructive Keep talking, educators. Talk around the dinner table, arm yourself with information, don't let the memes and profit-makers and the careless speech stand in the way of defending public education.

The War on Teachers and the End of Public Education Here's where that 40-year long view comes in. Undeniably, much about public education is different than it was in, say, the 1960s. Is it alarmist to foresee the end of a free, high-quality fully public education for every child in America? I argue that we're at a tipping point.

Oldie But Goodie Blog. Just one, as relevant and true as the day I wrote it, exactly six years ago: Eight and a Half Things (about Education) I Know Are True. Are things really worse now? Yes. But we could see what was coming, in 2011.

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