Saturday, November 20, 2010

“Last year I was not smart. This year I am."

In the wee hours of the morning, preparing to leave National Writing Project Annual Meeting 2010, I ponder how we got here, and how to respond to the lawmakers who threaten to push us prematurely through the door at the bottom of this stairwell marked “Final Exit.” Ending the day’s sessions a few hours ago, Sharon Washington stilled a noisy room, climbing atop a chair, urging us to contact our senators. The fall-out from midterm elections appears to have been seized by opportunistic legislators to make points with a populace in panic. Senator Coburn’s acting on his threat to sweep out discretionary funding with a simplistic action: “America did just fine for 200 years without earmarks, and Congress will do just fine without them." (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/15/AR2010111504511.html )

Prescriptive, one-size fits all, thinking has always been an option. The principles of democratic government, liberatory education, and responsible living must always strive to reach above self-serving, simplistic final solutions. Now, as ever, is not the time to join the panic. The fear climate, characteristic of our political landscape, makes a set-up for drastic action in which a few will benefit but many will be harmed. The leaders of the United States of America that I respect and follow realize that public education requires dedicated teachers who have been supported to build communities of learners even in an environment hostile to independent thought and threatened by immediate gratification. These leaders have the strength and courage to move ahead with the grace to admit mistakes which are the inevitable consequences of creative progress rather than succumbing to doubts of the fearful.

One exemplar of supporting teachers, the National Writing Project, the best I’ve known in my 40-year career in public education, faces the risk of losing funds from the taxes we pay. I want my representatives to invest wisely, not to jump ship, not to follow rash, fear-mongering tactics. Stand tall enough to distinguish the work that indeed serves all our children, including those “at risk,” those who have been harmed, those most in need of visionary leadership who see above the panic. Look at the heavens, the way leaders have done, far beyond 200 years ago. Listen to the child in a NWP teacher’s classroom who says: “Last year I was not smart. This year I am. I don’t know why but I like it.” http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/677