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Do educators need a tea party?

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. 

Standards 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?

Tea anyone?

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thomas Kaun says:

    I agree with everything you say, Joyce, but I’m not sure how to proceed.

    Stephen Krashen for years has beaten the drum for well-stocked libraries in schools offering students a rich variety of reading materials, yet in November, at our CSLA conference, he admitted he has failed to change much of anything.

    We have study after study demonstrating how good school library programs make a measurable difference in student achievement. And yet who pays any attention to the results outside of our own small circle and a few brave souls who see and believe?

    We are finally adopting school library student standards in California and I know it will lead only to more of the same diminishing programs with excuses being extremely cheap in this age of diminishing budgets.

    Anna Koval just today suggested we start wearing black armbands and I’m beginning to see the possibilities in that.

    February is Love Your Library Month. Maybe we should be loving AND mourning our libraries simultaneously. I know something must be done and I’m wondering where the leadership of AASL and ALA are in all this.

    I, for one, will wear a black armband from now on to school and as often as a I can elsewhere–at least it ought to be a conversation starter.

  2. Instead of saying no child left behind, we ought to argue for a system in which all children move ahead according to their abilities.
    Wow… are you allowed to say that? To imply that it’s the student’s responsibility to pass a course, and not the fault of the teacher or the school if the student fails? From what I read of the public discourse on education, such an idea is heresy.

    I think the sad failure of our educational institutions is that the leaders and administrators seem to accept the idea that their job is to make sure everyone passes. The mission of schools ought to be to ensure that every student has the opportunity to achieve as much as his or her effort, desire and ability will allow.

    Schools should celebrate their students’ successes and not focus on their failures.
    To achieve more than the lowest common denominator standards, students need the stimulation of arts and music and libraries and all sorts of extracurricular activities. Some students don’t care. Some have other priorities. Some of them will fail, through no fault of the schools. But if the schools fail to provide that stimulation, more won’t care, more will find other things to do, and more will fail.

    A relentless focus on standards and assessments will not inspire students’ interest or encourage their efforts. We need standards and assessments, of course, but we do not need them to be the driving force in our schools. So let’s change that. Let’s judge our schools by the great things our students do. Let’s celebrate the efforts they put in. This will be better for our students, our country’s future and our international competitiveness. It will be better for our libraries as well, since libraries are the key to extending and enriching the curriculum.

  3. How about the TeaCH Party Movement?

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