I can feel the grass roots growing. But they need a little water, or perhaps, some tea.
Daily, my email box and my Twitter stream fill with the passionate statements of teacher librarians and classroom educators who see what needs to be done, but find themselves continually blocked by stronger powers.
During our first TL Virtual Café, with guest host Mike Eisenberg, we explored and, yes argued, AASL’s official adoption of the brand school librarian. I worried for several days that releasing this argument may have done more harm than good. That, as a profession, we might have appeared seriously divided.
In my mind, what really mattered was that the meeting released so much energy. So many voices deserved to be at the table. So many very smart and new voices that had not been heard or listened too. So much talent deserved to be unveiled. (See a summary in the responses of Cathy Nelson, Diane Cordell, and Doug Johnson, as well as the archive of the discussion.)
As for the argument on the table, I would have preferred teacher librarian, but I will not change the sign over my door and I prefer to focus my efforts in developing, with my colleagues, a crystal clear definition of what effective, modern practice looks like. (More on that, next post.)
Though I worried initially, I loved passion of the resulting discussions.
It got me thinking of our potential power as a grassroots group.
It got me thinking that perhaps we need to open more cans of worms.
Perhaps what we need are stronger voices, more virtual cafés, perhaps a few tea parties.
Without doubt, everyone has heard of the tea party movement. It is both an object of derision by the left, and a source of fear from political incumbents on the right.
In my understanding, the tea party movement is not fundamentally for anything. But we do know what they are against.
One thing we can all agree on is that the tea party adherents, have a fundamental aversion to career politicians, divorced from the lives of the citizens, determining policy and direction for our nation.
It is not my purpose here to engage in a discussion of the tea party movement or its specific political impact. What I know is that it has voice.
I’ve been wondering, how does this grass-roots movement inform us as a profession? How does it speak to us as educators?
As front line educators we face the same frustrations with state and national bureaucrats, and to some degree with our large professional organizations and unions.
Time and again we (and me personally) experience the effects of bureaucrats in government dictating the educational strategies we are expected to use on the ground.
We’ve seen the devastating narrowing of once-rich curricula.
At the same time we have the new tools that allow learners to create, invent, communicate, collaborate, contribute, and reach new audiences, we’ve seen the rejection of authentic, problem-based, constructivist learning strategies that we know work.
We’ve seen the elimination of art, music, theatre, dance, physical education, and library-information programs. The elimination of the very reasons my own children woke up for school each morning.
Power is shifting all over the place. And perhaps it’s time for educators to rise up together, in their own tea party movement, to not only reject the paternalistic top-down direction of bureaucrats, association directors, and union officials, but to stand together for meaningful change.
Our tea parties have to stand for something positive. For what we know works. For what our own best thinkers (you know their names) demonstrate is best for learners.
In stead of saying no child left behind, we ought to argue for a system in which all children move ahead according to their abilities. Instead of just measuring how high a school achieves, let’s examine how well it’s achieved over a period of time. What its learners create and do.
Assessments in math and language arts matter.
But . . .
So does authentic performance.
So do honors and enrichments, as well as the more measurable number of AP classes with their 1-5 scores.
So do opportunities for art and music and storytelling and reading beyond the kind that is mechanically assessed.
So does a rich curriculum.
So do academic freedom and teacher creativity.
What I am asking is, can we all learn a lesson from the tea party brand?
Can we as educators better use our conferences and unconferences and blogs and tweets to garner national attention for a positive, grass roots agenda?