Friday, July 29, 2011

SOS Conference 2011, Day Two

Taylor Mali began the day with a poem that cracked everyone up. He reminded us all with his fantastic use of words what it really meant to be a teacher. Education is the miracle; teachers are the workers, he said (or something to that effect).

Diane Ravitch came next. She deftly explained (in a self interview in which she allowed herself to call herself Diane) exactly what's wrong with corporate reform's position on charters, vouchers, NCLB, standardized tests, merit pay and teachers. When you listen to her speak, you wonder why anyone who has spent time thinking about these things would ever endorse them the way corporate reform has.

The highlight of my day conference came during today's first session. I watched a film by Curtis Acosta of Tucson High and Eren Isabel called Precious Knowledge. It was about the dreadful actions of Arizona state in its attempt to silence an incredible ethnic studies program at Tucson High. Saying the movie was powerful would be my understatement of the year. I wiped tears from my eyes about every five minutes and was ready to donate as much money as I could muster by the time the movie and presentation were over. If it's not clear already, I HIGHLY recommend everyone get their hands on a copy of this film when it comes out. Show it in your communities and raise money for their cause.

At lunch I ate with a teacher from Seattle, a recent Brown graduate working at a non-profit in DC, and two former TFA members. The former TFA members (not the ones I ate lunch with yesterday) both quit their assignment prior to completing their first year. They related their awful experiences with the program. John Williamson was assigned to a variety of different schools in Detroit before realizing TFA was using poor minority children as his "guinea pigs." He's since begun a blog and takes George Will to task for supporting TFA here. I noticed a degree of incredulity in his voice as he talked about Will's piece that I used to have - back before my experiences with schools and the media (particularly the Washington Post) jaded me. The other former TFAer was a guy named John Bilby, whose youtube video I featured on my blog back in April. They were both applauded at the end of the day for telling their stories.

After lunch I went to a session moderated by editors from Rethinking Schools. The session involved knowledgeable people discussing unions, testing, charters, teaching, small schools, and co-locations. These people included Mark Naison, Brian Jones, Jonathan Kozol, Rachel Levy, Deborah Meier, Mike Klonsky, Ken Bernstein, Michelle Fine, Leonie Haimson, Leo Casey, Bob Peterson, Stan Karp, and Helen Gym. Helen Gym talked a lot about EMOs and the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook (Gym is one of the editors). It made me wonder why more cities don't have similar education media sources.

When everyone came back for the afternoon plenary we heard from Las Vegas Teacher Ernie Rambo, who ran 125 miles from the public high school she attended in Philadelphia to attend the conference. We then heard from Phoebe Ferguson of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation. The foundation spent $11,000 bringing a new group of freedom riders to the conference to march for educational justice. These freedom riders were students from the New Orleans school district. Some were members of a group of students called the rethinkers. They read poetry, rapped, told their stories, and explained what change they were hoping to cause in New Orleans.

After the afternoon plenary, we headed to the reception. I talked to a lot of interesting people. I first talked with one of the students from the plenary. I asked her what she thought the biggest problem in New Orleans was. "Violence," she said. I then asked what the biggest problem with New Orleans schools was. Same answer. She told me there was a heavy police presence in all of the schools, and she felt that any student misbehavior was met with a jail sentence. She was disappointed with a lack of after school programs, sports, tutoring, and alternative means of behavior modification. I told her I appreciated her and that I thought she'd done a great job.

Later I met a teacher from Chicago, Adam Heenan, who's been part of CORE since it took over the Chicago teachers union with Karen Lewis as president. He keeps a blog at The Classroom Sooth. Then I spoke with "Maria" of Failing Schools. We talked about the perils of pseudonymous blogging. I caught up with Rachel and Mary Levy (mother and daughter activists/writers in the DC area). I spoke with Norm Scott and finally got a chance to meet Susan Ohanian, one of my favorite education writers. (I learned she began her career in education as a New York City school teacher.) I then spoke with Leo Casey about possibly returning to New York City. And I lastly spoke with Luciano D'Orazio (or Mr D on his blog), a teacher/blogger from the Bronx. I learned that Luciano used to work on Capitol Hill for a very conservative member of congress. Indeed, Mr D himself used to be an ardent proponent of charters, vouchers, and the like. His experience teaching has since changed his opinions on educational policy. We traded stories/information and both left agreeing to work with each other in the future to create a space where people like us (people who believed in corporate reform until we experienced it) might share our stories with those who've never worked in education. We both felt we knew so many people who could contribute that it seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up.

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman was set to screen at 730pm, but I'd seen it three times in New York, so I decided to head out a little early. However, I recommend the movie to all interested, and suggest you donate. Norm Scott tells me they've almost collected enough donations to break even.

On my way out of the conference I finally got a chance to meet Mark Friedman (also of Failing Schools), a guy who's done so much work in the name of public education up in Rochester, NY. We'd been to four other conferences together, but this was the first one where we finally found a chance to meet face to face. I told him I might be out of a job this coming year, and he told me that he might be in a similar situation after being fired in retaliation for his outspoken nature. The team of excellent bloggers from Failing Schools ("Maria," Mark, and Sabrina) and I all lamented the retaliatory nature of school districts before we parted ways.

Overall, the conference was great, especially for the price. The opportunity to meet so many genuine people from all over the county committed to public education was indeed humbling. I choked up on more occasions than I'd like to admit. Read Teacher Ken's take on the conference here.

Tomorrow is the march, and I just found out Linda Darling-Hammond will be the first speaker. As if I needed another reason to be excited.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad you didn't come to our Workshop:Why TFA Must Change: Properly Training New Teachers for the Rigors of Teaching. You would have heard lots more about TFA and how it should change. As facilitator, I'd love to share that with you.

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