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The Real Stand for Children

Pop History Quiz: Do you know how children ended up off the factory floor and in classrooms?

Unionized adults.

From the 1830s until the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, organizations like the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen, the American Federation of Labor and others led the fight to end child labor and institute compulsory schooling laws. (That fight, by the way, continues.)

The reminder seems important now, especially today as Chicago teachers walk picket lines in the largest educator strike in years. For several years, organizations and individuals pushing corporate-driven education policies have repeatedly and cynically argued–directly or otherwise– that unions represent the interests of adults, not children.

But in the real world, beyond the exclusive communities and lofty offices inhabited by the special interest groups pitting families and communities against teachers, the interests of adults and children overlap more often than not. For example, the 19th and 20th Century working men and women who pushed for child labor and mandatory education laws made their point for two overlapping reasons, from their perspectives as working people who were also responsible for children: their concern over competition from smaller, cheaper laborers as well as their concern for the health, safety and well-being of those often-exploited children.

Likewise, as Chicago teachers strike today, they are doing so to promote the shared interests of the entire Chicago community. From the children who stand benefit from smaller classes, more arts programs, libraries, and social workers who can enrich their lives; to the community whose local economy would benefit from more working professionals who can pay for the things businesses sell– as well as the extra child care and other expenses many of those professionals will incur if they work a longer day; to the educators themselves, who stand to win both the fair pay and dignity they’re due for their hard work.

By contrast, the policies pushed by their opponents actually do put the interests of SOME adults over the interests of children and the broader community alike. Read More

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#StillThirsty

A random sing-along on Twitter just totally made my day. Human connections via digital media for the win! Read More

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‘Bad’ Women, Teachers, and Politics

Published at The Huffington Post on February 24, 2012

Just three months into 2012, as the Republican primary season continues, the tenor of the political conversation around contraception and other “women’s” issues has grown increasingly alarming (to those of us firmly grounded in the 21st Century, anyway). Though there is a long historical tradition of projecting social anxieties onto women’s (especially ‘bad’ women) behavior, it’s still jarring for those of us who’ve grown up hearing about, thinking about and believing in our equality to be reminded of how tenuous our freedoms really are.

But for those of us who work in education, these gendered frustrations haven’t just resurfaced because of primary season. Our field has been under bipartisan attack for a while now, as our feminized profession (76% female) has joined the ranks of all the other “bad” women throughout history who’ve been accused of threatening society’s well-being. Read More

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Wanted: Lemon meringue.

On several occasions as a pre-service teacher, I was asked to define and reflect upon my ideal/comprehensive approach to classroom management. Reflecting on my goals for students– for them to be joyful, open-minded as well as strong and powerful– and my goals for my own teaching persona, I eventually settled on a food metaphor: lemon meringue.

The key to perfect lemon meringue is finding the right balance between sweet and tart. In the classroom, sweet often looked like cozy reading/thinking spaces filled with hand-sewn pillows, engaging activities driven by students’ interests, and a broad-smiled teacher who was always willing to give a hug or an ear to a student in need of either.

Tart, on the other hand, looked like an insistence on diligent work, consistent enforcement of our (jointly-defined) classroom rules, and an occasionally stern-voiced teacher who could flash her mama’s best “I know you know better than that!” look when needed.

The kids, though they wouldn’t call it that, eventually evolved a similar approach. For instance, “Don’t Hate, Collaborate” was appropriate in cases of simple disagreement. But they would not tolerate bullying.

We didn’t always nail it perfectly. But on balance, we were all headed in the right direction.

Transitioning from education to education politics, and more deeply into the world of politics in general, I think about this pretty often. As a writer and an advocate in a high-stakes environment, I fully agree that it’s not just OK, but necessary to be forceful in defense of important goals. When we’re talking about the future of public education, or our (steadily less) free society, we absolutely need to call out–and eventually push out– liars and bullies who use their access and clout to push unjust or ineffective agendas. Pointed dialogue? Satire? BRING IT. I believe in using evidence, experience and wit to tear down bad or false ideas with prejudice, and when necessary, to isolate those who consistently push them.

But in order to actually get things done, we also need to learn to distinguish the difference between an opponent (someone with whom we have an honest disagreement) and an enemy (someone who actually wishes us harm). Honest disagreement is healthy; it’s how we guard against going too far in one given direction. But it’s not OK to deliberately deceive or intimidate people to prevent them from having an honest and open discussion.

(For example, it’s good to have a reality-based, reasoned, even incisive debate about balancing the rights of individuals vs. the State when talking about adding government programs. It’s bad to spread lies about death panels in order to poison that debate. Discussing different ways to improve teacher quality? Good. Using your power to humiliate people, or spread misinformation about due process and teacher evaluation methods? Bad.)

It’s also not OK to just be ornery for being ornery’s sake. There’s a fine line between intelligent critique/satire and just plain old being mean, which we don’t always toe successfully when dealing with hot-button issues (I’ll cop to this one, too). I get especially tired of seeing people I like, who should be allies, savagely eating some of our own because they disagree on tactics or strategy. As even my fifth-graders understood, it’s possible to disagree/be a critical friend without being a jerk. In-fighting, and being mean without proving a point, only helps your enemy.

Sigh. I wish more grown-ups would ask themselves before tweeting, speaking, or writing: Am I dealing with a friend, an opponent, or an enemy? Or, going back to the pie metaphor: Is this too tart– even sour– or just right?

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@BarackObama, prove me wrong.