Two divergent stories came together to poke this particular post out of my brain.
First: Watching the “Bernie Bros” story unfold, then twist, then double-back on itself, and watching really smart people I follow do their best to avoid saying “Not all Bernie Sanders Supporters” while simultaneously trying to say it wasn’t really a thing. I’m watching from afar, mostly because I’m in the camp of “Oh god, oh god, anyone but Trump/Cruz” and I live in a really blue county in a really blue state where my blue vote will live only to bring me pleasure.
Second: a series of Twitter conversations/discourses over the weekend with people who have very strong opinions about public education. So strong that many of them appear to advocate for the end of universal, free, compulsory public education in America. The threads tend to make for some pretty strong cognitive dissonance for me as I really, REALLY struggle with the claim that a society would be better off without a free education system. And make no mistake – I’m not a carte blanche defender of unhealthy schools or structures. I freely recognize there are schools in which the system is making things harder for children, instead of easier. There are schools that unintentionally and unconsciously perpetuate cycles of passive racism. There are students who hate school. I get that.
And yet… I’m an “improve what we’ve got” sort of thinker and do-er.* There are schools that have already gone beyond the archetype of traditional school. Schools like SLA which hosted EduCon this past weekend. There are free public schools where students pick their own course of study, set the behavior code, and defend projects of their own design to demonstrate their readiness for the next adventure. So each time I see a tweet proclaiming how very terrible, very bad, no good the ENTIRE public school system is, I feel compelled to respond with a counter-example. I offer up an example of what to all intents and purposes appears to be school done right, hoping that the conversation will shift from “statement about how bad schools are, aren’t I right, folks?” to “Here’s what’s possible. Let’s elevate this.”
I have to assume those who advocate for free-schooling, un-schooling, home-schooling know that not all public schools are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad places. That they agree the concept of school is no more a monolith than all male Bernie Sanders supporters are cut from the same cloth. Yet, when the threads go on and on about how terrible, horrible and no good teachers are – and those threads are populated by mostly white, mostly male faces… I have a visceral response.
My response usually comes in the form of awkwardly edited tweets in which I attempt to convey an idea that’s THIS BIG in a space that’s thisbig. While I’m tweeting, though, I’ve often a particular cliche running through my mind: Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Granted, people tweeting out statements about how bad school is aren’t exactly barging into SLA’s classrooms telling the students and teachers they’re wrong. But at the same time, voices carry. Signals are boosted – or they’re lost in the crowd.
It also needs to be said that my claim is never that students couldn’t accomplish the same incredible work on their own, but rather, they’re doing this great work in school. What’s gained by knocking down the system and hoping they arrive at a similar end on their own? I’ll wear my bias right out in the open: I have a hard seeing how eliminating public education will move us forward as a society in any meaningful way.
*I’m still working on, thinking about, reconciling different texts and writings related to the idea of “the Master’s tools” that Audre Lorde writes about.