Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Politics of Teaching

When is teaching political? Many of us will answer simply,"never."  After all, shouldn't there be an enforced separation in our classrooms between the lofty goals of education and the muck of politics? Don't we need to protect the "objective" sphere of pure learning from partisan manipulations of information and the biased agendas of political parties?  When it comes to factual distortions and omissions, of course.  But are teachers ever really operating outside of the political universe, even when they aspire to transcend it?  And is such an aspiration noble or dangerous in today's world?  When we insulate students from political controversy, are we truly serving them or their future?  Must teachers avoid thorny social, political and moral questions in order to serve students digestible lessons?  Is academic knowledge designed to go down smoothly without excess emotions like doubt, fear, confusion, anger, or even love?  In short, can we truly teach without touching down on the real world in all of its contested fragility?

Leaving aside a prolonged acknowledgement of this question's different degree of relevance depending on the subject matters we teach, I believe we all must confront the matter of politics in education, now more than ever.  One reason is outlined in this article from Rethinking Schools.  In spite of the way we separate and demarcate types of knowledge, our disciplines are interrelated and commonly implicated in the world's major challenges.  Grades and test scores are puny symbols for the true human stakes of learning, and so much in our world hangs in the balance between ignorance and knowledge. While the Climate Crisis may seem outside the parameters of a high school English course, Frankenstein is not.  Mary Shelley's warning about the monstrousness of technology that is out of sync with nature is a theme our students will confront writ large, and it is crucial that we prepare their consciousness for this challenge from every academic angle.  Politics is an arena too often ceded to "specialists" and "special interests," to people who have the mind or stomach for it, but in truth, we are all political actors on a political stage.  This brings me to my second reason for believing that teachers must confront politics.

We are political scapegoats.  Our collective image is being used to further an agenda of austerity and privatization, not just in the realm of education but in the society as a whole.  Private interests and profits are superseding the interests of children, workers, and people everywhere who want a sustainable life.  Teachers are on the frontline of the resistance to this corporate takeover of our public resources. This is not a self-centered observation of complacent victimhood, but a troubling recognition that we must confront as a profession if we are to save public education.

However, much of the public sees the members of our profession in a selfish light.  Misinformation is rife about pensions, teacher tenure and the supposed epidemic of bad or "ineffective" teaching.  The mantra that teachers must be held accountable to student test results sounds to too many ears like a battle cry on behalf of children, particularly poor and minority children, against institutional neglect; in fact, the steady drumbeat of testing and reprisals for low performance reinforces an education apartheid that has already taken root in our country. Disadvantaged populations are churned out to low wage job slots from testing factories, while children of privileged parents emerge from well-rounded private educations.  This inequity is untenable in a democracy, a fact of which antidemocratic forces are well aware.  I could go on and on, or you could just read Diane Ravitch's latest.

What do we do when the fight for our salaries and our working conditions is pitted against the needs of our students, as though the more we stood up for ourselves, the less we cared about our kids?  Jim Judd's editorial in The Press Democrat suggests that we teachers need to get over ourselves and our frail egos, and get down to the business of educating our kids.  So if tying our pay to student test scores works to improve their learning, we need to do it.  If firing principals and teachers when schools "fail" is the answer to meeting our students' needs, then what's stopping us? Teachers. What else!  Disregarding ample evidence to the contrary, Judd presumes that both of the above measures do work.  He then enshrouds this presumption in an especially clever form of scapegoating when he implies that we are the problem for noticing that we are being scapegoated.  That's right.  We are now being scapegoated for objecting to being scapegoated as Jessica Jones and Michael Aparicio do in their Guest Opinion at which Judd takes aim.

We cannot fight this kind of assault by pretending to be above the fray, or telling ourselves that politics is beside the point of education.  When oligarchical power plays threaten the foundation of democracy in public education, politics is hardly beside the point, in or out of the classroom.  The accelerating pressure to replace substantive lessons with testing soundbites is a political maneuver, and we must meet it head on with a clear articulation of our own values.  I value authentic learning and democracy, and I refuse to throw my students and our nation's children under the bus of budget cuts, school closures, and mind-numbing testing curricula divorced from personal, and yes, political engagement.  We need to define teacher and student interests together.

It is instructive that the nurses at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa just negotiated a salary increase amid a recession.  They succeeded  where we did not because the CNA knows that nurses are there to protect patient care, and that reduced funds translates to compromised care.  We have an analogous situation in public education, but we must embrace more fully our role to protect our students from budget cuts.  Until we can articulate the real damage to kids of slashed funding and imbecile policy choices, we will be marginalized as selfish people.  Although that damage is intellectual, social, moral and spiritual, we must express it in concrete political terms.  Public education is a right, and we will fight for it in the classrooms, in negotiations, and out in the streets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who We Are

We are educators in the Santa Rosa City Schools District who are concerned about widespread budget cuts amid the mounting pressures to transform the democratic province of public education into a mouthpiece for corporations.  Most of us teach at the high school level but we have been joined by University Professors, librarians, and elementary school teachers from different parts of the country. We wanted a place to discuss the crossroads in education that confronts our public schools here, and all across the nation.  

We chose a public place to have this dialogue because we believe it is urgent that the public gain a nuanced view of public education from teachers on the ground.  We do not have the corporate funds to launch a public relations campaign that delivers the truth about our nation's schools to the public; all we have are our own voices.  We hope to use those voices to amplify student, parent, citizen and resident voices everywhere as we demand the collective right to an authentic education, one that affords real opportunities to participate in a genuine democracy.  In the spirit of democracy, we welcome diverse perspectives and seek a robust and respectful dialogue.

Recommended Actions

Please inform us here of any upcoming campaigns, conferences, vigils or demonstrations that pertain to the fight for public education.

Tomorrow, April 4th is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis.  He was there to support workers' collective bargaining rights.  In honor of him, Cesar Chavez and working families everywhere, there are events across the country on Monday, April 4th.  As of now, the closest event to Santa Rosa is in Novato.  Follow this link to learn more.

Then, this Friday at SRJC there will be a panel to discuss the Education Crisis affecting California.

Panelists To address “Our Education Crisis” April 8
To help promote informed discussions at SRJC and across Sonoma County about the college’s current education challenges and the predicament of the larger education crisis that affects all California community colleges, universities, and the state’s K-12 education system, a panel discussion is scheduled on the Santa Rosa Campus on April 8 regarding “Our Education Crisis.”
Held from 2:00 - 4:00 PM in Newman Auditorium on the Santa Rosa Campus, the panel is the first of a three-part series that are organized by Michael Aparicio and co-sponsored by the Associated Students. The well-informed panel will include:
California Senator Noreen Evans, California Assembly Member Jared Huffmann, California Assembly Member Michael Allen, Santa Rosa School Board Member Larry Haenel, California Teacher's Association Sandra lowe, SRJC Vice-PresIdent of Student Services, Ricardo Navarrette
Following the panel discussion, panelists will participate in a 45 to 60 minute audience discussion. For more information, contact Michael Aparicio, Philosophy Department, at maparicio@santarosa.edu.

  The March: Save our Schools March and National Call to Action is a powerful event planned for July 28-30 in Washington, D.C. and Nationwide.

This National Call to Action says Americans everywhere should demand

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities
  • End to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities
  • Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Contract Negotiations

We are in the process of negotiating the contract for next year, and have an opportunity here to discuss our priorities.  We have already approved the calendar that specifies 2 to 6 furlough days on given dates, so that is off the table.  What remaining concerns do we want to see addressed, and in what order?  Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Is Not a Test. This is Not Only a Test.

Several people have asked me to post something about the standardized testing movement.  While I appreciate the need for discrete topics, it is difficult to know where one ends and another begins.  The mounting corporate control of education, the slashing of teacher salaries and undermining of unions, the Orwellian language of accountability and choice and the call for merit pay all dovetail in the high stakes test; and yet,  as the site where all these disturbing trends converge, standardized tests ironically tend to pry related ideas apart in a manner that makes it difficult to bring them back together.  The myopic focus on testing fragments knowledge and atomizes individual teachers and learners until we are all trapped in solitary cells of information, unable to connect meaningfully to our thoughts, feelings, or to each other.

I have been intending to write something about standardization for the past couple days, but became distracted and depressed by the tragic events in Japan.  I can't get my mind off the devastation and terrifying radiation unleashed by the earthquake and tsunamis.  I feel strongly that we, along with the rest of the world, need to rethink our dependence on nuclear power.  There is a real potential for such an accident to occur here, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that "we ought not to make American and domestic policy based upon an event that happened in Japan."  This, to me, is a staggering form of compartmentalization, i.e., gross stupidity, ever more likely to encumber our population as we churn out disconnected skills instead of engaged human beings who think and feel, whose hearts are not amputated from their minds.

As long as we drill, baby, drill our students to memorize information and adopt skills in isolation from their real world contexts and consequences, we cannot be surprised when those individuals fail to react to moral, spiritual, and material crises.  The CAHSEE exam must avoid "sensitive topics" such as religion, war, politics and poverty, to name just a few.  While we don't want to disadvantage any student by crafting test questions in a culturally biased way, our fixation on these tests as the true measure of learning is bound to infantilize our society to the point that we can't think about or discuss anything of consequence.  

How are we going to preserve our democracy unless we teach our kids to greet controversy with healthy dialogue?  How can we inspire students to seek knowledge and cultivate wisdom unless we embrace our role as intellectuals?  We are teaching and thinking in a political universe with real world consequences, not a testing arcade in which players rack up points.  As schools and teachers continue to be judged and ranked by their performance on tests, more and more educators will accept the devil's bargain of rewarding and/or punishing students based on solely on their high stakes test scores.  In short, we will be tempted to do to the students what we feel is being done to us.  If our teacher performance is going to be scrutinized on the basis of these arbitrary measures, then we want the students to "buy in" to the urgency of effort and results.  We can tell ourselves this is for their own good, but I suspect there is a selfishness at the core of all this behaviorist conditioning.  We will inflict even those values we reject on our students out of desperation, frustration, and misplaced resentment.  If we don't have the guts to rebel against the corporate sabotage of our profession, I fear we may wield a coercive power over our students in compensation.  

Let's not lend legitimacy to the tyranny of the test.  By incentivizing learning with grades, scores and competitive games, we are trivializing what is truly at stake when we choose to think or not to think: to be or not to be.  Isn't that the question?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Of Calendar Votes and General Strikes

We in the Santa Rosa Teacher's Union recently agreed to salary cuts in the form of a tentative calendar which would distribute several furlough days throughout the 2011-12 school year.  The negotiating team approved two furlough days in the increasingly unlikely event that Jerry Brown's tax extension passes, and 6 furlough days if it doesn't.  I was thinking of entitling this post Calendar Vote: The Aftermath but that seemed entirely too grim and divisive; and no doubt it would have led to the childish amusement of renaming the first post Calendar Vote: The Final Countdown.  Can I help it if these are ominous times?  I don't mean to suggest that anyone who voted for the budget crime days did the wrong thing.  In these times, it's hard to know what's right.  All irony aside, I believe the 2 to 1 majority that succumbed to the Great Budget Appeasement of 2011 was trying to save jobs. (Ok, some, but not all, irony aside.)  That is how the union leadership presented its case for the negotiation, as a conciliatory gesture of mature sacrifice to ward off a greater evil, and so it was on that basis that educators gave their approval.  2 to 1.

Except at Montgomery, where I hear it was a 2 to 1 majority against the new calendar.  Are we Vikings on something called Charlie Sheen, or do we have a point about staking out a strong position and refusing to yield prematurely?  I do not wish to sow seeds of rancor between teachers over a vote that is now a fait accompli.  Teachers must stick together, and in all seriousness I respect the rationale of others who made a different calculation on the recent vote.  However, I wish we had stuck together with our librarians who perform an essential service to students and our schools. They, and we, lost those valuable positions, and the losses in this state are only slated to escalate.  We are heading for a financial bloodbath and I fear, at best, that the calendar vote was our last bandaid before the wounds are opened for good.  At worst, it was a signal to our enemies that we are willing to bleed slowly in the shadows until they deliver the coup de grace.

To appease means "to buy off an aggressor with concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles."  As I see it, the big conundrum in our district is whether we are at the mercy of an actual aggressor or simply an act of Economy.  Michael Brenner, a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, dares to probe into the obscure workings of this god and reports back to us in his recent Counterpunch article.  It turns out there are mere mortals behind the curtain of our fearsome Economy, but mortals can be pretty scary in their own right, especially those who are bent on abusing power and engorging themselves with resources that should rightly belong to the earth and all of its dwellers.

With so much urgency surrounding the passage of Jerry Brown's tax extensions on income, sales and vehicle registration, and his push to get it on the ballot for June, consider the following undisputed tax rates:

CA Income Tax Brackets
Tax Bracket (yearly earnings) Tax Rate (%)
$0+ 1%
$7,168+ 2%
$16,994+ 4%
$26,821+ 6%
$37,233+ 8%
$47,055+ 10%
$1,000,000+ 11%

That's one giant step from 47k to 999k. You heard right.  If you make 50k you pay the same rate as the guy behind the gates with six cars, three homes and a yacht.  This seems unfair, aggressively so, and I want to know why reversing that injustice isn't on the table to save our schools, our healthcare, our fundamental human rights.  Do we really think the 999k yachtsman is creating tons of jobs?  Can we check? I'm mindful of the danger of using overheated rhetoric in these times.  Words like "enemy" should not be applied lightly and liberally to anyone with whom we disagree.  But when I read about the implications of Brown's
spending cuts that he and the Democrats in the legislature are pushing alongside the call for more tax revenue, I can't help but feel that there is an enemy among us, and I know that enemy by the name of Greed and Cowardice.  Okay, two enemies.  

Leave it to an English teacher to use personification to avoid blaming people.  I'm not comfortable assigning individual blame.  I'm too self-deprecating and steeped in my own flaws to point the finger at another.  But I gotta tell you, there are some very, very, greedy people in our midst who have absolutely no compunction about hurting the neediest among us.  With apologies to Jon Stewart (who earns my highest esteem for his hilarious takedown of Wall Street ideology,) Stephen Colbert, and their Rally For Sanity, evil does exist.  You know it, I know it, and J.K. Rowling knows it.  Sure, sure, liberals don't want to sound like Bush when he made his axis of evil speech.  I get it!  But sometimes, sanity lies in calling your enemy by its true name.  

Furlough day sounds way too comfortable, like a glass of red wine or a warm, expensive coat.  It comes from the Dutch verlof, or, permission.  Really?  Not too well paid to begin with, we are being granted permission to lose our much needed earnings, and we are even invited to lose them at sporadic times during the year so that we cannot easily recoup our losses at a time like, say, the start of summer?  Our students are allowed to lose important learning time when too many of the days that remain are hijacked by meaningless tests?  And these same tests cost money that is not going into the retention of actual human beings who have a real relationship with our kids, unlike a multiple choice exam which can't listen or talk or care?  Seriously?  People, we need a new name for these FDs, and fast.

Another thing we need to do is consider whether Jerry Brown has essentially hemmed himself into the position of selling out our union in order to pass the tax extension we are being told is our only hope.  (I'm still wistful over the potential to tax a yachtsman, or a hundred.) He didn't even have to put this tax extension to the voters.  It's almost like he doesn't want the final decision on his shoulders.  He could have MADE THE CASE for why extending the tax hikes for five years is vital to the well-being of our state and its people, and he could have tried to get this passed the straightforward way.  Did anyone hear him make a passionate case for this?  I guess it's hard to make a passionate case for a budget that already has something like $14 billion in cuts stinking it up.  And please don't tell me that austerity here is about taking the high road, the mature and practical road, or I will reintroduce you to the yachtsman.  

Just go for it, Governor Brown!  Let's tell him!  You don't have to make all these sleazy deals and cuts.  You can fight for what's right.  Remember Bobby Kennedy?  Yes, I realize it was the times, and yes, Jerry Brown is about as much like Bobby Kennedy as a furlough day is like a vacation, but come ON.  Show a little passion, a little verve, a little moral gravitas. These times are as electric as the sixties, and our elected officials need to start acting like it.

Admittedly, for the tax extensions themselves, (as opposed to an agreement to put them on the ballot), to go through the legislature, Brown still would have needed a two thirds vote, and yes, the Republican lawmakers would still have refused to budge.  But when you stake out a strong and principled (feigned or not) position, negotiations tend to go in your favor. Just ask our State Republicans who are sitting pretty on an awful lot of leverage.  The path to hell is paved with too many concessions.  

If you build it, they will come.  It applies to the leaders who need to craft the moral appeal, as well as to the people; we need to make them remember there is still a moral imperative, and we will toss them out of office if they can't dig it.  Remember, Wisconsin teachers didn't start fighting the good fight because their union leadership gave them the go ahead.  Teachers and their students had finally had enough, and they took to the streets.  How is the public going to see us for who we are if we can't make our case directly?  Negotiations behind closed doors have their place, but it may be time to open a few windows and let in the light.  We all could decide it feels good to step outside.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Storming the Rhetoric: Give us Your Slogans!

Let's invent the language that will get the public talking.

I'll start.

If we can't afford our schools, how can we afford the rich?  Reform the tax rates of California!

Every cut is a crime against children.

Democracy is non-negotiable! Stop the privatization of our schools!

Education is a right, not a race. (Got that from Cornel West)

Lost Earning = Lost Learning 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

When Crumbling Infrastructures Attack

I have a personal story about the crumbling infrastructure in our public school system.  We all do.  Mine involves shock, bloodshed, and the haunting look in a student's eyes that became, for me, an unforgettable metaphor: You can't keep the outside from crashing in.

The lunch bell rang on a Wednesday.  I remember the day of the week because a group of colleagues were meeting in the library at 12:30 to share ideas about Teach Like a Champion and I had it on my calendar to attend.  That was not to be.  I was on an intellectual high after an especially good discussion with the kids about 1984.  Not every day is this way, but there are times in that class when I'm fielding so many provocative questions that one more would make my head explode.  In a good way.  The buoyant (not a word one expects to associate with 1984) energy in the class lingered after most of the students had dispersed, and as I hurried around the room putting things in order, I made mental note of various new avenues for future lessons now opened by our discussion.  In short, the sun was shining, I was in a positive mood, and as we are often told these days, positive thinking is all we need to move mountains. Brave New World, the novel my students read after 1984, grinds that proposition to dust.  But I digress, not unlike Holden Caulfield.

Holden needs no introduction as the stream of consciousness narrator of Catcher in the Rye, the novel we are now reading.  He is alienated and angry at the world's phonies, and many students find meaning in his existential crisis.  He may be unreliable, as you will read in the spark note style skywriting everywhere visible on google, but at least he is searching for authenticity in a world besieged by hypocrisy and lies.  In the midst of his emotional crisis and subjective appraisal of his environment, we can sense his humanity.  His point of view is limited, but he struggles to know reality in a deeper way where so many others will conform to what is on the surface; that searching quality, however frenetic, may be why Holden is so popular with so many students who hunger for the truth, no matter how grim.  But again I digress.

There are some prominent phonies setting education policy alright, people who want you to buy all that bull about "choice" and accountability, but by accountability what they really mean is selective accountability.  I mean when do you see the Wall Street Bankers holding themselves accountable? Never, that's when.  It kills me.  But I'm talking about infrastructure here, not people, and what I learned on that sunny Wednesday is that my classroom windows are phony.  That's right.  Phony!

Troubled adolescent that he is, Holden's voice nails it for me these days.  Every day I work with teenagers who are capable of cutting through the crap when a large portion of the rest of the society is conforming its way into moral, ecological and spiritual oblivion.  And I wish I could protect that questioning spark in them while at the same time protecting their feelings, but you can't always do both.  If it's a contest between happiness, (or more rightly comfort), and truth, then I'll side with truth.

Here is the truth: Our windows may give the impression of protecting us from the cold, the wind and the rain, but it is a false impression.  Sure, there are those days when my windows are tightly shut against the elements, the heater works for more than 5 minutes without coughing up a noise that would distract a meditating monk, let alone a hormonal teenager, and all is calm in my own private learning environment. But then there are other days, like that afternoon I went to let in a little air after my class had ended, and was startled by the glass shattering at the mere pressure of my hand pushing outward on the window handle.

Lest there be confusion, I'm referring to the kind of window handle that is designed for the very purpose of pushing outward on it to let air into a room.  As a teacher who believes in constant self-improvement, I am sorry to say I was not innovative in opening this window.  It was a lazy, automatic gesture and yet,  I did exercise a certain degree of force for a woman of my slight size and stature.  Full disclosure: I felt some resistance and for approximately 10 seconds pushed outward on the handle as hard as I could.  Many of my windows are stuck, so I was used to this strenuous pushing.  I did not push or even touch the glass, thankfully, or my hand might have gone right through.  I simply tried to open a window on a warm day and when I did, the glass shattered and gave me several puncture wounds, two on my right forearm and one on my right knee.  There was blood.  And there were students in the room.

Did I forget to mention the students?  The class had ended, but a few students stayed to hang out in my room; they had the misfortune of seeing me, their stunned teacher, getting paler as the pools of blood came into focus.  I struggled to keep up with the reality of this unreal moment.  "Has this really happened," I thought.  "Are you okay?" one of my students asked with real empathy and alarm?  I looked in her eyes and, in that instant, I had to be okay.  I had no idea how serious my injury was when she asked me because I was in shock. (Only later was I relieved to find out that my wounds were not serious.)  I knew only that I had to be okay because she had to be okay.  I wanted to create a screen between my wounds and this girl, to protect her from the figurative missile that had just landed in the room.  That is what teachers are supposed to do.  We nurture and protect our students while they are in our charge.  But I couldn't protect her from the flying shards of glass that day, and it haunted me.

The window that broke was promptly replaced by the district. The people there handled the accident smoothly and properly. Everybody at my site did everything right, from the beloved friend and colleague who escorted me to the office to the kind, reassuring nurse who bandaged me up for a trip to the emergency room.  From my caring, calm and efficient Principal to the concerned students at the scene, to the teachers who made sure to check in with those student witnesses, everybody did everything right.  In fact, nobody I know did anything wrong.  And yet the glass still shatters when it shouldn't, and in earthquake country that COULD lead to avoidable injury or even death.  I'm not saying it WILL.  I wouldn't want to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

I do wonder how much it would cost to replace the windows in a school with safer glass. Is there a rich foundation that wants to pump that kind of money into a very good public school?  It seems that brand of largesse is reserved for charter schools which, if they choose, can throw their struggling learners out the proverbial window.  Is there a Race to the Top competition for safety in schools our state can enter?  Should we train our students to compete on tests that will decide whether their classrooms are physically safe learning environments, among other things?  Oh wait, in a sense we already do.  Our kids deserve better, and it's not the teachers who are to blame. If we really want to protect our young people from poverty, or drugs, or racism, or homophobia, or any social ill, then we better start letting them in on the full picture that has only begun to come into focus in Holden's blurred vision.

Mine is only one insignificant story about the crumbling infrastructure in public education. We all have them, and I wouldn't want to turn a mole hill into a mountain.  I'd have to be Superman to move a mountain.  But that's only if I had to do it alone.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reclaiming Accountability

What goals do we have as educators that might replace the arbitrary measurements imposed on us from outside sources?  Conversely, which current measurements do we support and wish to bolster with our own self-assessments and self-reflection?

Fighting For Our Schools: Winning Strategies

This is the space to discuss strategies to improve working and learning conditions in our schools.  What negotiating tactics are most effective?  When are concessions productive and when do they weaken our cause? How do we get more money into education?  How do we reach the public and let them know what we see on the ground?  How do we reframe the issues so that teachers are at the vanguard of a real reform movement?  Add your questions and comments!

Does This Blog Matter? It's Up to You.

Someone in Malaysia has viewed the blog. And Canada. It has been viewed 800 times since the calendar vote. Ok, so the person in Malaysia might have accidentally stumbled into TheEdutalk while fumbling for the url to Edutalk. The 800 views is actually just a couple of you guys going wild. (It's not me - my settings don't allow the stats to track me.) And anyway, what does one person in Malaysia or Canada have to do with Santa Rosa City Schools?  

Maybe it's just me getting worked up over a measly 350 views the day of the calendar vote, and all the great comments that have dwindled since then. No big deal, right? We've held steady at 100 views every day, but again, it could be a core group of people going on there 30 times a day. So what if it is? Doesn't that say something about the energy radiating from that core? Over time, it could be infectious. That's how I have to think because this is my contribution, right now, at this moment, to the revolution.  Accidentally on purpose, we may unleash a fervor that can't be stuffed back down.

It's like being in a classroom. You teach your heart out whether or not you can measure the difference it makes. Yep, I said "measure." On rough days it feels like there is no point. Nobody is listening. Nobody gets it. Nobody cares. But then you go to lunch and have a laugh with colleagues and an inspiring conversation or two. The students make you smile with endearing antics, or razor sharp insights. Maybe a few crowd around your desk right before the bell to clarify a point that was made in class. But it's always something, and for me it's been 10 years of somethings that have kept me going.

Now I'm trying to make a difference outside of the classroom, but it's the same energy moving me. And I'm trying to move the energy, just like we do in the classrooms when everything feels dead. Donna had the idea for this blog and I started it because of the calendar vote. We went to that lunch meeting and many of us thought our union was playing dead. No, we didn't change the vote, but we did change some minds with that blog. I know because I heard from those people directly. 

Ok, maybe I shouldn't extrapolate from just a few to masses of people, but isn't that what teachers do, in a sense? We magnify the small teaching moments into life-changing paradigm shifts. New ideas lead to new life.  It happens ALL the time, and that's the magic of this profession.

I'm asking the magicians among us to have a little faith and start helping me create a ripple effect that will, in Michael Moore's words, "arouse[d] a sleeping giant" right here in Santa Rosa. Obviously, the blog is not going to do that on its own.  The times are. You know it, and I know it. We are living through a radical moment. Anything is possible right now, and now is the time to act.  You can't tell me you have never heard of a meme.  Ideas are not hemmed in by geography or numbers.  They can travel very far, very fast even if shepherded by one person.  Luckily, we have more than one person in this fight. 

 Imagine if every single person in our district who had these thoughts fleetingly on a given day posted, "followed" or shared the blog with others. Imagine.  We could jolt this city into awareness of the budgetary crime being committed against its kids.  How else do we have a prayer of passing Brown's tax extension?  We need to be pressuring our legislators yesterday, marching through the streets and campuses yesterday to fend off the coming economic disaster that is expected to take place in 2012-13.  But we only have today.  Luckily, memes can make up for a lot of lost time.  Imagine change at light speed and shake off the incremental blues.  Imagine.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Calendar Vote

Yesterday afternoon we SRTA members at Montgomery High School had a visit from President Andy Brennan.  The sentiment in the room was strongly opposed to the new Calendar negotiated by SRTA with the district.  People made excellent points and raised serious concerns about accepting additional furlough days with no quid pro quo; the district is under no legal obligation to minimize layoffs even if these salary cuts go through.  Moreover, the district has put no offer on the table, such as reduced extra duty time, to warrant acceptance of these cuts.  Since so many of us in the room, and at the town hall meeting at SRHS this past Monday, have substantial misgivings about the rushed nature of this vote and the calendar itself, we implored Mr. Brennan to set up a blog in which a district-wide dialogue could take place before the last day of voting.  This request is obviously time-sensitive, but the newly created President's Blog on the SRTA website is closed for comments pending technical teacher expertise to block out spammers, a concern expressed by our President on the site.

Many of us in the English Department at Montgomery feel that this discussion needs to start right now.  The last day of voting is tomorrow, and we believe it is imperative that we have a vigorous dialogue among as many members as possible.  The low turnout at the recent town hall meeting might suggest that not all of our members have taken the opportunity to participate in a public forum regarding this momentous decision.  To paraphrase one speaker at that meeting, this is a critical moment in our school district's trajectory.  Decisions made now may haunt both students and educators in the future, and none of them should be entered into without dialogue and communication among members.  In that spirit, would all of you receiving this link please forward it as widely as possible to SRTA members.  Use Facebook or personal email addresses to spread the word about this forum.  Although it was started by people raising objections to the calendar, we invite diverse points of view and encourage as many responses as possible.  Some of us may have valuable information and wisdom that we need to share with others. 

Thank you,
Simone Harris
Montgomery High School