01 Feb Reframing Education: A Call to Action
I recently attended the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA) conference organized by ASCD, a professional organization for educators and administrators. The keynote speaker at this conference was Diane Ravitch, a one-time staunch supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). She has since recognized the damage being wrought in the name of achievement and is active in speaking out for better education policies and practices.
During Ravitch’s presentation, she talked of the ways in which the American educational system is not failing. And she used research and data to support her position. It is rhetoric that educators do not hear. It is a position that the media and politicians fail to present. It is one that Americans believe does not exist. In the course of her presentation, Ravitch urged educators to follow in her steps – do not allow politicians or the media to frame education. If we do, we will continue to be beat over the head and treated as robots, not the professionals we are. Instead, she suggests that we create a counter-narrative showing people what is right with public education. Once educators take control, perhaps that can become THE narrative and no longer needs to be the counter-narrative.
After Ravitch’s speech, we had other conference activities which culminated with a “Day on the Hill” meeting with our Congressional representatives or their staffers. At the last meeting of my Day on the Hill, my group of Marylanders met with an aide for a House Representative. This aide happened to be a teacher who is temporarily working on the Hill, but who intends to return to the classroom someday. Our conversation with him was different as he fully understood the issues we were bringing to the table. During the course of our meeting, he issued a challenge to us: Band teachers together and stop saying “we can’t.” Teachers need to send a cohesive message to their politicians that is more than just a Can’t-Do Rhetoric. Politicians feel that educators are unwilling to change and do not want accountability when that is what they hear. (And that is what they hear, according to this staffer.) He challenged us to change to a Can-Do Rhetoric and show how changes can be made in a way that makes sense.
In my own experience, teachers have been apathetic to education policy beyond their school’s walls and passive recipients of whatever policies are passed down from above. As a former union representative who had to occasionally fight to ensure that teacher anonymity was maintained while also ensuring that working conditions were legal, I once had a colleague ask me, “Why do you care so much?” She could not understand that my work supported students (in ways beyond achievement), teachers, and school climate. All of those things matter to making a school a place where children want to learn and teachers want to teach. And without those things in place, there is no student achievement.
Taking Ravitch’s call and the staffer’s challenge, I now plan to construct my own counter-narrative highlighting the positive things happening in education and the steps I believe will lead to effective change. I challenge you to do the same. We need to work together to show what it is that teachers ARE doing (and doing well) and what CAN be done to improve it. Unless we change the rhetoric, no one will take us seriously or treat us as professionals, and we deserve both. After all, America entrusts their children to us each and every day.