I have friends who have quietly hinted that I’m a sellout. I had an opportunity to make change in the education system by working from the inside, as a classroom teacher in a public high school. Then I “sold out” to work for a private school.
I left the public school system because it become clear to me that the institution can never change, and will never change, without a fundamental shift in consciousness. A recent column by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times illustrates the problem perfectly. Friedman writes about the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” that tells the story of the dire situation faced by families desperately trying to win a coveted spot in a successful charter school.
[W]e know what works, and it’s not a miracle cure. It is the whatever-it-takes-tenacity of the Geoffrey Canadas; it is the no-excuses-seriousness of the KIPP school (Knowledge is Power Program) founders; it is the lead-follow-or-get-out-of-the-way ferocity of the Washington and New York City school chancellors, Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein.
And it is the quiet heroism of millions of public and charter school teachers and parents who do put kids first by implementing the best ideas, and in so doing make their schools just a little bit better and more accountable every day — so no Americans ever again have to play life bingo with their kids, or pray to be rescued by Superman.
And so another generation will replay the story of Sisyphus, pushing that boulder—with tenacity, seriousness, ferocity, and quiet heroism—up the hill, only to watch it roll back down again. There seems to be no sense here that the fundamental assumption driving the system—that teenagers should be coerced by punishments and rewards to learn skills and concepts that have no meaning to their lives—is flawed. Instead, Friedman implies, we need to just work harder!
I have no interest in playing the role of Sisyphus. I’m working to gather people who want to build something new and beautiful, and if you want to join us, there’s room for you. Our work is not about tenacity and ferocity, it’s about joy and community. And I’m telling you, it’s really fun.
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