The New York Times and Why Adding More Educators To Your Panel Matters

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Last year around this time, I criticized the New York Times for not having many K-12 educators on their panel. Excuse me, for having maybe three current teachers and another handful of former teachers out of a possible 70 panelists. I laughed at the prospect of a public education system without any educators, and my own suspicions about the composition of last year’s panel made me laugh harder. It felt like the schools of the future would just have a suite of products thrown at kids with maybe a couple of people overseeing these third-party modules, collecting data on iPads while Joel Klein sits in a hub like the architect.

It feels like someone down at the New York Times heard this and the ensuing chorus of complaints (thanks in no small part to all of you who decided to retweet, big and small), so a couple of my colleagues got into the conference as panelists and audience members and reported back about the events. I nodded in approval.

This year, in an act of good faith, I decided to check the early list of panelists, and I gotta say, I’m happier with the list (notice the modifier). Since I’ve already undertaken the role of unofficial education panel ombudsman, I looked at the list and noticed a couple of improvements. First, they added a teacher and made that a prominent part of the program. They’ve also added Linda Darling-Hammond and Pedro Noguera, two of the Save Our Schools rally speakers from 2011. More importantly, there seem to be a few more school-based people on the list. Not that I agree with all their points of view either, but at least I feel like the organizers concentrated more on people within education and not simply wizards and gadget-wielders.

Frankly, I would hope a panel like a New York Times panel would have all sides of an issue represented, but that’s often not what happens. What we often see is a cavalcade of right-to-center “heroes” and AFT President Randi Weingarten, or 20 corporate deformers and NYU scholar Diane Ravitch. You rarely see a balance of all the voices that matter. Come to think of it, that includes students, parents, guidance counselors, and social workers as well.

Alas, I won’t demean progress.  I also have to admit that, percentage-wise, not many of us who teach K-12 put ourselves out there as viable candidates for panels like these. I leave that for another post.

In the interim, I’ll just say that we as teachers have a long way to go before all these major conferences recognize teachers as a critical part of the conversation, not just as participants in the conferences but as the sages on the stage. We’ve already come a long way in redefining teacher voice; now we have to activate it. I remain critical until this is so.

Jose, who will take questions now from the audience.