The short answer is no.

The longer answer is still no.

Actually, I thought Save Our Schools was defunct. But since their initial march in 2011, which arrived with some very high profile speakers and great fanfare from those of us already embedded in various movements on behalf of public schools, things have been pretty quiet for SOS. Most of the activist efforts shifted to splinter groups, especially the Network for Public Education. This new march and conference, scheduled for the hottest and most miserable month in DC, is likely an attempt to bring together new and old organizations, many of which didn’t exist in 2011, when the first event occurred.

I have to say, however, that the movement has not evolved much since 2011. There is still an overwhelming reliance on very old and traditional models of activism, namely marches, speeches, and conferences. When SOS first came to town in 2011, it seemed like a very novel thing. I was a college professor at the time, and this more abstract form of activism seemed like a great idea at the time. You might be thinking, abstract? What is more concrete than a march and speech?

For me, marches and speeches and conferences are fantastic starting points. You have a nebulous congress of people with very similar interests gathered to speak out against a general problem and make indictments against specific groups or individuals. Hopefully, as was the case for me, this gathering of like minded people from various parts of the country inspires more localized activism and organization.

But here we are, roughly five years later, and SOS is doing a march, a bunch of speeches, and a conference. All of these people, many of whom will speak if invited to the opening of an envelope, are going to descend upon this city and do what, precisely? All of this money spent on hotels and travel and meals will do what? Could those dollars not be spent on defense funds for teachers who are speaking out? I don’t know, anything but checks to the Holiday Inns of the world.

Five years is not enough time passed to re-introduce SOS to a new generation of activists. Perhaps 10 years, but not five. So what will occur is a simple rehash of the same people and same talking points. The same people will arrive to pimp their books and blogs, but not help a single school or teacher in the process. Panels and roundtables will convene, and ultra-serious adults will have very important conversations. But this format does not seem to match the radical change and revolution that must occur. This all seems very safe to me, organized by people who are very safe in their proposals, methods, and propositions.

Well, why don’t YOU organize your own event then?

I have.

And even only after two annual events, the format was tired, cliched.

It’s time for something else, and yet another march in July is not it.

I’m not conflating any issues here. What I am talking about is passion and emotion. This video of a Baltimore activist has popped up several times on my feed. I’ve watched it numerous times with great satisfaction. It’s not that I have any connection whatsoever to what is going on in Baltimore. But there is something infinitely gratifying when I see a local activist confronting a charlatan, an outsider. Not that I know the full story, but I went and read some background and context to their interaction.

This is how I feel about education activists and other officials who collude with the profiteers, the privatizers, who wield the instruments of oppression for the sake of compromise or dialogue. Rather than being polite, policing our tone, this is how I feel that teachers should react sometimes to outsiders, to the carpetbaggers among us, who feel they know better. To the ridiculous and sometimes dangerous ideas that we are forced to propagate. To the unabashed opportunists who hang around for a couple of years and disappear. To those that read a paragraph from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and grab the mike at rallies like they know something.

I don’t necessarily condone the dialogue here, and not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things. But I feel his anger, his genuine hurt from being exploited by those anointed by the elites as “safe.” This person is “safe” to talk to. This is a “safe” representative of an activist movement. And in the cocoon of safety, one can get attracted to proximity to power, to the point that one may forget who you’re fighting for the in first place.

I can feel his anger and frustration at walking and working in the trenches while others preach safely on the side, making private deals and working for themselves. I can’t say for certain that’s what’s going on here, but I sometimes, on occasion, want to say get out of our schools!

This year’s testing season is drawing to a close. Folks on all sides will once again count their spoils and lick their wounds, prepping for minor flare-ups when test results are finally released, and for future battles to come.

I have this feeling that while parents, teachers, and other activists squabble over testing, the system is already hard at work designing the next phase of this war. Anti-test activists might discover that, when testing and stakes are reduced sufficiently to their satisfaction, a new paradigm will emerge.

Anti-test activists, of which I counted myself one years ago, diminish the importance of testing to everyday teaching practice, but at the same time spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and words arguing against it. Does that not put testing squarely in the center of everyone’s consciousness when it should instead be relegated to the periphery?

When activists spend so much time arguing against testing, and common core, there is less time and energy for the creation of an alternative vision of teaching and learning. Maybe one day the testing wars will be over. Then what?

Parents and community members are given tremendous power in these debates because, quite simply, a parent cannot be fired for insubordination when refusing to allow their child to participate in testing. If these parents succeed in their fight, will they be able to envision an alternative educational vision? Will they step aside and allow teachers to take charge of this new mission?

I’ve seen some examples of this alternative vision emerge from some bloggers and commentators online, but I don’t see enough examples. I don’t see enough examples of actual teaching that can compete with a test-based narrative. I don’t see enough examples of these activists actually knowing their practice well enough so that we can trust them with developing something new.

Think of a list of prominent activists in this movement. How many pictures of their classrooms have we seen? Do they post syllabi or handouts? Video clips of their teaching? Student work samples? Do they post anecdotes of their experiences with students? I can only think of a handful.

Think of the boards of these activist groups. How many are still teaching? Do they comment on a future vision, or do they constantly rail against the past? All of these bloggers and commentators out there, do we have a collection of their teaching, of examples of their teaching, so that we know with some degree of confidence that they know what they are doing in the classroom?

I used to believe that it was not the activist teacher’s role to create this alternative, because it’s already been out there. Instead, it is incumbent on the reformer to remove the oppressive chains and give the teacher the freedom to practice as their profession commands. But now I’m starting to believe that the activists are only responding to old paradigms as the ground shifts underneath us. We will be late to the new battles that will emerge, and we must start laying new foundations now before we find ourselves behind once again.

I read Paul Thomas’ take on Christopher Emdin’s new book, which is soon to be classic. I’m not sure how I feel about the book yet. Not all the way through it. However, as a white teacher in an urban Title I school, I was also struck, as was Mr. Thomas, by this quite:

“The way that a teacher teaches can be traced directly back to the way that the teacher has been taught. The time will always come when teachers must ask themselves if they will follow the mold or blaze a new trail. There are serious risks that come with this decision. It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student (p. 206).”

The first point is essentially not true for all teachers, and is certainly not true for me, unless the equal and opposite reaction counts. That is, I’ve spent my career teaching to the opposite of how I was taught. I’ve spent a career taking risks and, on many occasions, being chastised for them.

The final point in the quote, that we can either do damage to a system or to the student, is true, in my experience, but the road to and from that choice is fraught with incredible risk, particularly in school systems and schools where the level of scrutiny from district officials and administration is high.

Hopefully, Mr. Emdin provides some guidance, which I have not found yet, for teachers who are willing to damage the system, because the system will come for you. The system will retaliate in a variety of ways, using all the tools at its disposal. The system and its indoctrinated agents will wear you down until damage to the student seems like the new best option.

Those in educational circles, particularly on social media, are observing a season of meetings of various professional organizations. We were recently treated to the smiles and reunions of academics at the DC meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). And we are now inundated with the bright, optimistic activism of the Network for Public Education (NPE) meeting in NC.

I have attended dozens and dozens of conferences and meetings over the years. I’ve made, I think, some limited connections, but have typically been underwhelmed with the transformative power of panels and plenaries. Applying for presentation spots at higher profile meetings don’t seem worth the effort anymore, unless your job security requires it, as is the case with higher education.

There are numerous meetings and marches planned in the upcoming months, but I’d like to know if the fire and passions actually transfer to real world  situations. Notwithstanding the speeches, rallies, and council meetings, the blogs and indignant blog posts, does activism eventually make it into the daily interactions of teachers?

I think it’s important for teachers to vent their frustrations at political rallies and share their testimony at political meetings. It’s important for educators to meet with like-minded professionals, perhaps discuss strategies and ideas. But teachers have the ears of central office professionals and administrators every day in meetings and informal conversations. Does the activism, the fire and brimstone collected during events like AERA and NPE, actually transfer to those less formal interactions?

It would be important to communicate to attendees of these and similar meetings to carry their messages, not necessarily to high profile events, but to the smaller and everyday interactions all teachers have with administrators. Honestly, not too many administrators with whom I’ve interacted are aware that NPE or AERA actually exist. So what good are these meetings unless teachers come back prepared to spread the word?

As attendees and participants in these meetings, teachers, are you bringing up what you’ve learned with your colleagues? Are you speaking up about unjust practices during faculty meetings? Are you distributing articles and other readings to colleagues so they too can benefit from the information you’ve received?

If not, then why waste the time and money it takes to attend these meetings?