Category Archives: public education

see me see them

In this TED talk, the musician Amanda Palmer tells the story of her first job out of college, being a living statue (an 8-foot bride to be precise) and the profound experience it gave her with human connection. Since she couldn’t speak as a statue, her first task was to make eye contact and really see the person before her so that person could likewise see her.

As a teacher and literacy scholar, part of my life’s work hasn’t been so different from Palmer’s. Though I can’t add 8-ft.-bride to my CV (though that would be amazing, I’m not gonna lie), I’ve tried to use my writing as a way of establishing connections with readers so that they can move beyond the common abstraction of public schools as a failure or a “disaster.” By rendering moments of teaching and learning, I’ve tried to help readers understand in a profound way the hard and beautiful moments of teaching and learning.

I believe it’s more urgent than ever to help the general public see those up-close moments. Right now, for instance, the only sounds in my classroom this morning are the rush of air through the vents, the light but steady tapping of my students’ fingers on laptop keys, and the occasional brushing of pages as they thumb back through Why School? to see what Mike Rose has to say.

I love this hush, this sound of becoming.

In that liminal space between student and classroom teacher, these preservice teachers have the inside corner on what it means to teach and learn. They’re intent. They’re the future. And at this moment, I’m just honored to share the room.

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letter to the next president

Dear President Trump,

You’ve been understandably distracted by other issues since inauguration day, but I’m hoping you’ll soon move education to the top of the list since it’s relevant to every single citizen. (Plus, I notice that it’s been removed from the “issues” section of the White House website.) All of us have had experiences in our own schooling that inform our views about education today, but that was then and this is now. What’s the connection between those things? How do those experiences shape our hopes and expectations for the teachers and students who are busily typing away in the classroom I’m occupying right now?

Based on the Betsy Devos hearing last week, providing families with choices is at the center of your agenda. This seems like a no-brainer. Presumably, parents and caregivers want the best education for their children that is possible.  As a parent myself, I wanted my own children to have caring teachers, high expectations, rigorous curriculum, lots of enrichment opportunities, and connections to them as whole people, not just test scores on a page that would be used to judge their worth and their schools. I wanted them to have choices that opened up their lives now and in their futures. It mattered to me that they learn not only to be smarter, but to be kinder and more inquisitive. I wanted them to know that their voices were important in the world.

When I look around at my students right now, that hasn’t changed. I want the same things for them, and I suspect they would agree that they should have ACCESS to those opportunities.

What’s worrisome to me, however, is how “access” is getting defined in the discussions I heard last week. Equity and access are important to help students thrive, but vouchers–taking money AWAY from public education to siphon toward private and parochial schools and charters that often have profit margins uppermost in their missions–aren’t the answer. Diverting funds from public schools, who actually are not “flush with cash” as you described them in your inaugural speech, isn’t the answer either. Not holding charters, private, and parochial schools to the same standards or entrance requirements (this is especially true when it comes to students with special needs) isn’t equitable and isn’t providing choice. It’s just providing the illusion of it.

Public schools are the one public institution all of us share as a nation. I urge you to provide more support for them and for students and their teachers so that they will have equal access to the resources they need (books, technology, free and healthy breakfasts, challenging curriculum, fair assessments, and robust professional development for starters). These things cost money, but they also enable positive life chances for all of our future citizens and will keep America great (not just great again). The grand experiment that is our democracy depends on it.

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