September 4, 2013

Waiting for Tom Petty

Photo from 20th Century Fox
Having finally watched the film "Won't Back Down" over the long holiday weekend, I have to say that, while it does delve into cliches just a bit, it brought back memories of the my own experiences in the ed reform struggle. What was poignant was how the film tried to present the various sides of the education reform issue through the lens of different individuals.  What was crystal clear is while many unions dismissed this film, and of course their rank and file followed, the one thing we should be able to agree upon is that the venom, animosity, and vitriol pertaining to education reform has reached a nadir.

What I find so confusing and dare I say, hypocritical is that too many people who claim to "want what's best for children" somehow seem to be the ones who mirror their actions.  I remember in 1989 when the book "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum first came out, people were really focused on simplification.  Be kind to one another.  Treat others the way you'd like to be treated. Coincidentally, in 1989 the Berlin Wall also came down thus signaling the beginning of the end of the "Cold War."  Since we as Americans no longer had a common enemy, perhaps we lost our focus concerning the exact points Fulghum was aiming to address.

Put simply, on the micro level in the education reform arena and in the macro level as a country, we have lost our humanity towards one another.  Especially when it comes to those with whom we disagree.

As we exited the "greed is good" anything goes Yuppie era of the 1980s and entered the somewhat progressive 1990s with the election of Bill Clinton (before the scandals), there was a hope that things could change.  We had witnessed history take place on the other side of the globe and for those of us exiting college during this time, we truly believed we could make a significant difference.  A 1960s ethos was building around those of us in our 20s.  For example, a young idealistic woman from Princeton wrote an undergraduate thesis proposing that because of a growing teacher shortage, high achieving college graduates should have a way to enter the classroom to teach in underserved areas of the country.  This idea, as we of course know, ended up changing the face of public education, depending on your perspective, for better or worse.

So where are we now, some 20 plus years later post 9/11/01, or more importantly post 9/12?  Because of various events which have taken place both in this country and internationally, we are living in a cloud of fear. We are in an era in which the simplistic assertion of if you're not "with me, you're against me" is the prevailing mantra.  It is as if we've become a nation filled with Hatfield vs McCoys, Yankees vs Red Sox, or White Sox vs Cubs.  Life is one big game (yes, as I said in an earlier post, sometimes a "zero sum game"), and yes there are "winners" and "losers."  But to think that we have lost our sense of sportsmanship, humanity and common sense is extremely disheartening.

The film "Won't Back Down" is just one of the latest examples of a Hollywood cinematic representation of what is occurring in too many cities in this country when it comes to public policy debates as a whole and educational reform policy specifically.  So what is the "solution?"  Simply put listen more, talk less.  And that includes this blogger.

More complexly, I believe that finding the good in others is not something that is easily achieved.  A coach who has walked the sidelines of both Chicago and LA with much success is in such high demand because he has been able to accomplish this task to the tune of 11 NBA Championships.  If it were easy, every coach would follow suit - especially those who succeed in his mammoth footsteps.
Photo from 20th Century Fox

In public education, regardless of your positions on charters, high-stakes testing, state capitals funding public education (or not), Washington DC (reauthorization of ESEA), Department of Education, Common Core or whatever the issue may be, let's begin to find the humanity in those with whom we seemingly are in opposition.  We must remember, we are all searching as best we can, for "what's good for the children."

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