At the end of this month, I’ll be joining thousands of other teachers for the Save Our Schools March in Washington. People will march for lots of reasons, and you can read some great ones here, here, and here.
I am going to do something I don’t usually do with this piece, and make a rather conservative argument: I’m marching because I don’t have the answer.
I just finished up five and half years of teaching in the Bronx. I joined a school filled with some of the smartest and most thoughtful people I have encountered in the field of education. We were given a blank canvas on which to envision an ideal school. We did a lot of impressive sounding things, many of which worked, others of which failed miserably. Whether or not the school is a success or failure, of course, depends on one’s stance and perception. There were many teachers who felt like the early success of the school were ones only of appearances, where good press and high graduation rates hid a number of foundational problems. But for others (including myself for a long time, though less so recently) we were doing something wonderful in the service of our students. I may never relive the sense of possibility and efficacy I felt a few years ago, but it was recently captured perfectly by one of my colleagues.
Both views are simultaneously true. Regardless of where one stands on the value of my former school, there is not one person who thought our work was done. I left a school with many problems, some of them structural, others created by the mismanagement of the NYC DOE; some of them created by decisions I made, and others from my colleagues and administrators. The problems, like every single one of the 474 students the school serves, are immensely complex. So too will be their solutions.
And this is why I’ll join with thousands of others to march. I don’t have the solutions, nor does any other one of the thousands I’ll march with. But collectively, I know we do have the solution. We have the solution because we are the people who are working with students in the classroom every day. We have the solution because among us we have those who have been successful teachers for more than 30 years, as well as those with the youthful virility and naiveté often required to think outside the box. We will have the solution because we have the courage to speak truth to power when they offer any of the litany of silver bullet solutions to address the needs of all our schools (small schools, better teacher evaluation, more tests, more data, more cheap accountability, merit-pay, common standards, etc.).
I am marching to organize individuals into something larger than our selves. I am marching to say no to the self-styled demagogues of the so-called “reform” movement like Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Geoffrey Canada, or any other future demagogue who comes forth with the solution. I am marching to call out the gutless politicians like Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, although I voted for both, who hide behind questionable short-term gains tied to the political cycle rather than make an effort to effect lasting and sustainable change in education systems.
I march because I know the solutions to the challenges that face schools will not come from closed-door sessions in the White House or Tweed Courthouse, but rather from the masses of teachers who will gather on July 30 to march, but much more importantly, will gather the next day for a congress to plan for the future.
I will enter D.C. as an individual. I will march in a group. I hope to leave as part of an organized movement.