“I‘m not a regular competitor, first rhyme editor
Melody arranger, poet, etcetera
Extra events, the grand finale like bonus
I am the man they call the microphonist
With wisdom which means wise words bein spoken
Too many at one time watch the mic start smokin’
I came to express the rap I manifest
Stand in my way and I’ll veto, in other words, protest
MC’s that wanna be dissed they’re gonna
Be dissed if they don’t get from in fronta
All they can go get is me a glass of Moet
A hard time, sip your juice and watch a smooth poet
I take 7 MC’s put em in a line
And add 7 more brothas who think they can rhyme
Well, it’ll take 7 more before I go for mine
And that’s 21 MC’s ate up at the same time …”
– Rakim in “My Melody”
A union meeting with UFT President Michael Mulgrew would rile me up. I won’t share too much about the things I experience today, but I’ll give you a hint:
I’d love to emphasize the urgency I have about the myriad of people who swear they have all the answers to education’s problems. Before this post, I had a list of people I wanted to put on a Wanted List for all sorts of edu-terrorist activities, but I can’t blame them anymore than the system that continues to allows these open sores to spread all over its own epidermis. Our education system has the wherewithal of a Lernaean Hydra, and the breath of one, too. For, should I dismantle one talking head’s argument, another two show up with confounding and equally disgusting arguments.
What does it say about a system that lets Joel Klein influence the likes of Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan?
Underneath those usual polemic figures lies a slew of third party vendors, some of whom base their research on years of experience and literature, and others who (admittedly) aggregate what they like and re-sell it as their own product? It seems as if we’re selling off whole chunks of our education system to the highest bidder, but the bidder never actually bids, and makes way more money than he / she invested to begin with.
At this point in my career, I’ve seen schemata and schemes to make me question everything, no matter how trustworthy the source. I’ve had equal parts experience with America’s Choice and Institute for Learning, but only one of those I respected. While the former sought to dismantle what they perceived as stern egos, the latter sought to interweave their research-based vision with what the teachers already knew content-wise. The latter assumed our intelligence whereas the former literally tried to embarrass me and my colleagues in front of each other in an obvious set-up. (I let them know as much too).
But if I came in last year, and both of those organizations came to me with their proposal for how to transform my teaching in the classroom, I’d diss them both. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, when I didn’t feel so hot about my teaching, I heavily critiqued people from Learner-Centered Intiatives and, before them, Marilyn Burns. First, I distrusted them because their representatives weren’t racially diverse. At all. Frankly, most of the people who came to “visit” were White, and they weren’t talking in terms of the race consciousness that threw peanuts at our heads with its big trunk. More importantly, these visitors were forced upon us without any regard for what the staff might actually need. We’d have to sit there for hours and listen to a random stranger tell us what’s wrong with our teaching.
“Shut up already and get to the point,” I’d say.
Then one day, I decided to do some of the research for myself. As it turns out, not all the third party vendors were bad after all. It depended on a few more factors than I originally considered. For one, did the person in front of me teach for a considerable amount of time? If so, did they look like they’d be able to take over my class for a few periods if given a chance? Did they engage me or just work from a deficit model?
As I considered some of these things, I was enveloped in another set of pedagogy wizards who could fix every school’s problems. In NYC, the focus is on Mike Schmoker and Charlotte Danielson. I’ve ragged on Danielson a fair amount less because of the content of her teacher rubrics and more because NYC has already forced her wares upon its schools with no regard for understanding the intent of the creator. Upon reading Danielson a few years ago, I was curious about her beliefs about teaching, and found her respectful of the profession she researched. Professorial, sure, but most of the intelligent people I know actually respect her work. Plus, it’s nice to have a self-evaluative tool. She didn’t rely on Rob Marzano or Heidi Hayes Jacobs to feed everything she knew about teaching. She didn’t aggregate whatever she thought she liked and resold it as her product, nor did she chomp whole bits of Ted Sizer’s philosophy and hustle schools into believing it works right now.
Which is exactly what Schmoker does.
That’s not his fault, though. There are plenty of school systems seeking some validation for the shock doctrine-style invasions they’re going through, and only certain people have the genital fortitude to pet and stroke this infected beast. Whether the ideas generated by these folks is a good idea or not, the way it gets presented to teachers via e-mail / memo / local right-wing newspaper can get mutilated to the point where it loses all effect.
This is not to say that all hope is lost. Some of those third party vendors do the work of the people, and we need solid support wherever we can get it. But the minute one of those vendors gets out of line, the people in the classroom ought to turn the desks around on these people and call them out on their nonsense. We ought to seek endorsement for the things we do, and help in the things we need to improve. We don’t need validation, because that’s what we seek from our children.
Mr. Vilson, who wants you to disagree when necessary …