Remember this oh so optimistic post I wrote a little over two months ago? In it, I said:
After observing the group for a few days, reading threads and clicking on suggested links, I decided to find out how many chairs were available at this new table of education transformers. I posted a comment in which I basically stated my belief that teachers (or at least Badass Teachers = BATs) and unschoolers have a common goal and might benefit from working together. I threw it out there and asked for thoughts and ideas about how the type of change we all seem to want could be most effectively implemented.
The ensuing discussion was very encouraging, and that is important.
Here’s why: The only way to implement systemic change is to find the common ground among people with wildly disparate methods and ideas. The only way to succeed is to remember the common ground and be willing to entertain ideas that we may not find ideal for ourselves but that move us in the right direction as a society. We must be willing to disagree with respect, keeping in mind that our common ground is more important than our differences. We must even, at times, be willing to compromise. (Contrary to current popular belief, the ability to compromise is a sign of strength, not weakness.)
In my perfect world, would every child be unschooled? Yes, of course. Unschooled and with every resource available to them. However, my perfect world – or at least a version thereof – could manifest by merging with the vision of some of the BAT’s, by creating open learning centers, supporting democratic schools, encouraging schools of 200 students or less, making individualized instruction & self-directed learning the norm, or at least the goal, and of course doing away with testing.
Sounds good, right? Too bad the other side didn’t think so. Since I wrote that post it has been a downhill spiral with the BATs. First they decided that some discussion threads were too divisive, and so they created a completely separate forum – not on Facebook – (which we dubbed “the bat cave”) for such “inflammatory” discussions. At first these were primarily political in nature, but after a bit it became anything in which anyone disagreed at all about any topic, no matter how benign. And of course no one wants to halt a conversation in the middle, move it to another page and try to pick it back up, so any mention of moving to the forum effectively ended the discussion. And if it didn’t, the BAT admins had another solution. Deletion. Outright censorship. Now, I am not talking about threads where people were name-calling or being disrespectful. I’m talking threads which included respectful (albeit sometimes vehement) debates about the best ways to pursue the BAT goals of ending high stakes testing and doing away with the Common Core. Anytime someone pushed for thinking beyond the myopic goal of stopping Common Core, they were censored. Anytime someone suggested that emailing Bill Gates, who is not elected and has billions of dollars at his disposal, was not the best way to change his mind, they were censored. In my case, several times I made mention of the fact that in order to save a thing (in this case, public education) it might need to be transformed, my “loyalty” to the cause was questioned. By the very people I joined the group to support.
For instance, last weekend I posted this comment:
Two of the BAT’s stated goals are to ditch the Common Core Standards and do away with high stakes testing; both excellent goals, to be sure. But I will continue to exhort all of you here to stretch further. Pre-NCLB days were not the golden years of compulsory public schooling, if there ever was such a thing. Here is H.L. Mencken writing in 1924: “That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” Over this Labor Day weekend, I challenge you all to think about how education can evolve beyond standard brick and mortar and into communities; how we can find ways to encourage every child’s independent interests without the bonds of a compulsory system; and how public education can finally live up to that “erroneous assumption” and actually be an entity that “awaken(s) their intelligence, and so make(s) them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner.”
Three comments in (two of which were from someone who was supportive and willing to discuss), this was written:
I think the forum is the perfect place to discuss the ideal school.
I responded to that comment with the following:
With all due respect, I think it should be all of a part, and not on the forum. Stopping high stakes testing and the current corporate takeover will be more effective with a long term plan. And will have more “teeth”, so to speak
This is where it really began to go south. The same person who said we should move to the forum wrote:
The overwhelming majority of teachers attempt to create a safe and nurturing environment for their students and it really doesn’t help our cause at all to tear down what little influence we have left. It is a big part of the deformers plan to label everything we do with a big stamp that says “failing”. This sort of talk plays right into their hands because it gives the perception that we have somehow created and perpetuated everything that is wrong in education and nothing could be further from the truth.
Nothing I wrote blamed the teachers for the situation. I could have, but I didn’t. I knew who I was talking to, and throughout my time there I did my best to remain diplomatic and aware of the fact that many teachers do have good intentions and are fearful and floundering in a toxic system. It wasn’t my purpose, in the BATs, to wave the flag of blaming teachers. However, I refused to back down or move to the forum. I reminded everyone that I do support their goals (as I stated in the comment I posted) but that I will also continue to encourage everyone to think farther ahead, partly because when I was invited to join the group, I was told that the BATs wanted a diverse group of voices at the table. This was one response to that:
…did you read what we said about taking this one step at a time? You don’t get to push people. We don’t push or run in the hallways here.
“We don’t push or run in the hallways”?? Seriously?
On two other occasions, in threads in which I was active, one of the admins would jump in and say things like “I hope you are not going to advocate for unschooling for everyone”, even if the discussion had zero to do with homeschooling or unschooling.
So. Tonight I asked the BATs a question: If the tables were reversed, and what was at stake was not teacher jobs and doing away with the corporate running of public education but instead the right of parents to homeschool their kids, how many of the BATs would join a group to support homeschoolers in their fight?
One person said they would. Most said it wasn’t relevant, or suggested I start such a group and see how many BATs join. (I guess the hypothetical part flew by those people.) And, of course, I was told to move it to the bat cave. Shortly thereafter the entire thread was deleted.
And shortly after THAT, I left the group. This was a group for whom I was willing to compromise and to whom I gave my support from the onset. But it became obvious that my further involvement would be a waste of time. Time I could be spending with my kids, enjoying the fact that they didn’t go back to school this week (or next, since NYC schools aren’t in session till the 9th).
As an addendum, a good friend of mine who is a long time public educator was banned from the BATs minutes after my thread was deleted. She’d called out the admins on some of their hypocrisies, and they did what they always do. Ban and censor.
I still believe in finding common ground. I still believe that it will take a broad range of people with differing beliefs to change things for everyone. I am still willing to work with those people, and to compromise.
The Badass Teachers Association are not those people. Not so badass, after all.
There are a few exceptions, of course. I have “met” a few outstanding people through the BATs, most of whom are no longer active or have also left the group. For those who remain, I applaud your ability to wade through the muck and to stick it out. I hope it makes a difference.