Badass Teachers Association Seriously Needs a Better Name. Seriously.

Over the course of just a few weeks, a group of teachers called the Badass Teachers Association has garnered 20,000 members in the name of pushing back against the corporate education reform movement.

20,000 members in such a short period of time! Frankly, I'm ecstatic to see more and more evidence of people pushing back against high-stakes testing and all the other destructive policies that follow.

But the name, people, the name!

American Heritage Dictionary on "Badass": mean-tempered or belligerent.

I get it. Words mean different things to different people. A lot of people (mostly teenagers) think of "Badass" as a good thing, being cool. But I don't know anyone who uses that language in the context of serious policy debate. And therein lies the problem.

The corporate education reform movement has spent significant time attempting to make teachers seem unserious.

It's claimed we make too much money, achieve lower scores on the SAT, complete less rigorous college programs, and molest children. Many Americans have bought into this idea, if not about their children's teachers, then at least about teachers generally.

We need to be taken seriously precisely because this is a very serious matter and the evidence is on our side.

If people interpret Badass to mean tough or good, it comes off as juvenile. If they interpret it as belligerent, we come off as being uncooperative and unwilling to listen. Neither are desirable.

The image I'd like to see teachers take on is one of very serious concern, based in mountains of evidence and convincing logic. Badass doesn't say that to me, and I've heard the same from many others.

Again - I get it. Corporate reform has made many of us very frustrated. Trust me - I know. But we shouldn't allow our anger to assist them in putting us in the box they've prepared for us.

Ultimately, the battle over public education policy is largely one of public opinion. The less teachers come off as approachable and logical advocates for meaningful reform, the less likely the public are to listen to our serious concerns about the use of high-stakes testing.

The less they know about how high-stakes testing negatively affects schools, the less likely they are to be concerned about our increased reliance on it - and, in turn, the less likely they will be to push politicians away from it.

Let me end by saying this:

I could not have more respect for Mark Naison and the people who've put the hard work into this group. It's inspiring.

But imagine for a second this group really taking off. Your local news channel wants to report on something they've done.

The anchor looks uncomfortable for a second, and says, "Tonight, the" pause and uncomfortable tone "Badass..." looks around, maybe you hear a laugh in the studio somewhere "Teachers Association is planning...." The news cuts to an interview with one of the teachers who's arguing strongly against testing, or something similar. And then back at the studio before the show's over. One anchor makes a quip with a smirk, "Those 'Badass' (he says with air quotes) teachers sure are a rowdy bunch."

If I'm watching at home, the Badass teachers don't seem very serious to me.


  1. I mean, it's cute to wring your hands over a name and all, but in the meantime...

    In the face of the immoral forces arrayed against education and educators in this country, the longer that school-marms clutch their pearls on the sidelines, the more deeply entrenched these forces become.

    And you want to be polite?

    I suggest you go swim in the culture a little bit. Your idea of what "badass" means seems quaintly antiquated. I've lived and taught in New York, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Florida. I'm no teenager, and I know what the word means. Check for an updated conception.

    I have taught Latin and I have taught Hip Hop and American Culture at the college level. I speak three modern languages outside of English moderately well, and can stumble through greetings and pleasantries in several more. I am highly attuned to register, tone, and semiotics.

    I find that "Badass Teachers" says what it means, and means what it says.

    You obviously care deeply. I hope you'll come around.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Papa J - although not for the insult that was obviously intended by referring to my ideas as cute.

      Surely someone as educated as yourself understands that, in politics, the message's medium can sometimes be as important as the message itself.

      I value the way words are meant and interpreted differently.

      I don't think that the way you interpret it matters much - or, for that matter, the way any of the people who agree with the anti-corporate-reform message.

      I think what matters is the way people who need to be won over interpret it. I only fear that, for too many of them, their interpretation is not what we intend. I fear that it will only make things more difficult.

    2. First of all, James, I apologize for the "cute" comment. I was out of line. The current state of affairs has me agitated, but we obviously agree on far more than we disagree, and it was disrespectful for me to do that. Mea culpa.

      Second, I appreciate your patient response. You were gracious to respond so.

      I suppose in the end we will disagree on the message of such a name. I am less sanguine than you are in the ability of mountains of evidence and sound logic to sway the American public. It hasn't worked yet, and I haven't seen any hint that superior reasoning works when confronting these forces. Whether it's climate change, economic lunacy, or educational policy, the elite of this country haven't demonstrated any inclination to play by the rules of evidence, logic, or decency.

      The people that need to be won over will finally be won over when the effects of 35 years of wrongheaded policies become tangible in their neighborhoods. When teachers become angry enough to finally stand up for themselves, people on the local level will notice. When teachers proclaim themselves "badasses," people may open their eyes just a bit.

      Great societal changes don't happen because of well-argued evidence and logic. The "reformists" have spent a generation plotting this, and they didn't arrive where they are now by using evidence and logic. They manipulated their message with insidious argument and malicious intent.

      The upheavals we are seeing around the world, in Egypt, in Turkey, in Brazil, and elsewhere are happening because the great masses of this planet are waking up and are tired of being pushed around by the global corporatists. The corporatists won't be swayed by logic. But they may, they just may, respond to an angry and invigorated populace.

      I am all in favor of presenting a truer version of reality than the enemy presents. But I would rather present it with a raised fist.

      My final wish is that you continue to support the aims of the Badass Teachers movement, even if you do not agree with the name. We need each other as allies, and I would hope that our mutual interests would outweigh your discomfort with the name, and that despite your disapproval you would not distract attention from the real point of all this. I know you did not intend it this way, but a blog post complaining about our name feels like a potshot taken by an ally.

      Peace, James. Thanks for all the great work you do.

    3. Thanks, Papa J, for your well-stated opinion.

  2. I think the name should be changed, but my thinking falls more in line with one of the more recent Game of Thrones when Joffrey proclaims, "I am the king!" To which Tywin replies, "Any man who must say, "I am the king" is no true king."

    There is also room for the argument that we now live in a world where people are bombarded with information. If you don't throw up a giant banner wrapped with fireworks nobody even blinks an eye.

    What we really need are televised debates of the brightest teachers in the country tearing into politicians who push the agenda that public education is bad because of teachers and not the fact that they are underfunded. That would be badass, and nobody would even have to say it.

    1. Televised debates of bright teachers - sounds wonderful.

  3. If the name was not so out there and raw, there would be 200 Facebook members, not 20,000, and nobody would notice.

    Badass is so close to inappropriate, so outrageous, and yet so easily accessible in everyday conversation.

    Being polite will do nothing to catch media attention, which is critical.

    The choice of the name was genius.

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      I don't think we necessarily need to be polite. But I do think we need to be respectable. And I think those things are maybe slightly different.

      We can speak with emotion, opt out of state testing, and call corporate reformers on their poor policies. As long as it's done with a sense of control, with something that would cause someone watching the fight would to see us as someone worth listening to, then I think we're doing just fine.

      But too often, I see teachers overcome with frustration and emotion resort to name-calling and unplanned attacks that are easy for corporate reformers to use in writing us off to the general public as union thugs, or good-for-nothing public employees bent on keeping their pensions safe. And I think that's worked for them.

      I'm afraid calling ourself a name they could use against us is like stepping into a fight with one hand tied behind our back.

      But I hope you're right.

    2. I agree with Mark, above, that with a "more serious" name there wouldn't be 20,000 members of the group. On the other hand, James is right that we've been demonized and not taken seriously for so long...and this name is definitely NOT serious.

      That's why the name has become such a big issue. On the Facebook page people are now being told that the name discussion is is what it is, and if you don't like it then don't join. I understand that large groups of people are going to disagree with details, but this has become a real divisive issue.

      Who knows...maybe the language will change -- as language always does -- and it won't be so offensive to so many. In the meantime I'm using the group to lobby for people to bring the same passion and anger to Diane Ravitch's Network for Public Education. What's not in dispute is that we need to fight back...and we need much more than 20,000!

    3. Absolutely, Stu. I completely agree.

  4. James, I have always respected you as an activist and blogger, so I very much appreciate this sentence that you wrote: "I could not have more respect for Mark Naison and the people who've put the hard work into this group. It's inspiring." Thank you for that. I have worked with Mark and his group of admins, and yes, they are working night and day to lead this group to action. It is inspiring. As far as the name, I really have no opinion. In urban terms, it means someone who is not going to take it anymore. So, it is catchy. And, because it is catchy, it has caught the attention of over 20,000 teachers. I believe we will be judged by our actions more than by the name. Either way, I am just thankful that 20,000 teachers have connected to share stories and plan action. That is the most inspiring of all. I hope you join us, James. And, believe me, the name grows on you. Thanks again for your article.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, gatorbonbc.

      I joined the group prior to writing the post. My strong disagreement with the name is not strong enough to stop me from supporting what could result in some very positive outcomes.

      I could certainly be wrong. I hope I am.

  5. I have to say, though, despite my support for the group and its actions, I still strongly disagree with the name.

    The first time I heard about it was from a colleague, who said something to the effect of: "Have you heard of the Badass Teachers? I don't know who they are or what they do, but it doesn't sound like anything I'd want to be a part of."

    When I heard about it, I thought, "Nope. Doesn't sound like something I'd want to be a part of either."

    The first thing my mom said when she heard about it was, "Oh please, people. Grow up. Get out of high school."

    Then I went and researched them and found that all these people I respect are a part of the group. So I joined.

    But I DO NOT see myself leading an opt-out of test meeting, or calling a state representative (as I've done many times in the past) and telling them that I am a Badass teacher.

    It could come off as a lot of things that I don't want: arrogant, juvenile, mean-tempered, unruly, uncooperative.

    And with parents, that's a long conversation about whether someone who calls themselves a "Badass" is fit to teach their kids.

    It may not be right, but it's the way it is.

    I still strongly believe the name should change.

    1. Agreed. I am an English teacher: The connotations of this word differ with the audience. My students would laugh first and then say...really, Healigan?

  6. Moreover, even when taken the way it's intended by the group, teachers are NOT Badasses.

    By and large, we don't ride Harley's with long hair and leather jackets; we don't save the world from end-of-the-world doomsday scenarios; we don't ostentatiously saunter through the hallways impressing all the students and parents.

    So even when you think of the ways badass is used positively in our culture, teachers just don't match up.

    You COULD say teachers are dedicated, caring, empathetic, intelligent, hard-working, fed-up with policy, overburdened, abused, understanding, under-appreciated, passionate, steadfast, unyielding, compassionate, educated, etc...

    But Badass? Really?

    I don't think so. I have no idea why we would use that as our epithet.

  7. Another thing I'm learning about the negative effects of the name:

    In comment threads on Facebook, it's really bringing out the worst in some people. One comment read something like, "I'm so proud to be a badass teacher. So much better than all those pansy ass teachers who won't stand up to anyone."

    That comment was followed by remarks containing other words that are embarrassing to see teachers in public use.

    I think the name and comments that follow have either encouraged or brought out a "you're with us or against us" attitude.

    Not constructive.

    The name needs to change.

  8. Sadly, somehow my longer response just erased. rats. But here's the gist:

    1. BAT, well-meaning, but is ill-considering (thus far...) a key component: audience and communication; if their intent is to engage in dialogue with those who disagree, or who have serious reservations about their positions. If they want to meet with legislators, it’s important to consider how they wish to be perceived, and how the ‘are’ being perceived by the people they want to engage.

    2. To counteract the 'silliness' or 'pithiness' or 'cuteness' of the name, a correspondingly serious, focused, evidence-based, and professional-looking website-portrayal of their mission, vision, values, and specific propositions, proposals, legislators-of-interest, and local initiatives. If the first two initiatives the organization takes on, within a short period of time, is "ousting Arne Duncan" (maybe---- but is this really going to do it? just phone calls, not a legislative move to build some clout/momentum/support? seems like prioritizing “having a voice” over “being heard” by those in power, or who might agree in the right circumstances) and decrying the spread of Common Core, with only broadside attacks without any serious counter-points (of which, there are many valid, useful, and compelling critiques).

    3. It seems, at this point, an impassioned, rightfully righteous gathering of voices---- but with a large number of voices behind you, it's important to wield the single voice it creates with some sense of direction that doesn't largely come across like many unions: dedicated to making ourselves feel "heard", but without any solid forward-looking proposals to respond to key questions:

    a. what is a great education in an american public school (what's the spectrum of experiences of teaching and learning we support?

    b. how do we know how well we're doing whatever that education requires of us teachers?

    c. how do we communicate that clearly to the students and parents and public?

    d. how do we intend to ask for/receive/process feedback about how we're doing?

    if we're going to claim "badass" status, we have to back it up by being "badass".

    here's hoping it picks up some steam in having some awesome ideas in related to these key questions; I’m all about more voices at the table. but we all have to be wary of making the catharsis of feeling like “our voices are being heard” have undue influence over the dialogue--without considering whether or not others are actually listening/and-or being influenced positively and engagingly by our words and ideas.


    1. Great points, Brendan. Thanks very much.

      I think the questions you put out there are especially important, and not discussed enough.

  9. I've been in the BAT page on FB. They ARE mean tempered and belligerent.

  10. Education gives strength to the person over here They get knowledge and discriminate which is wrong and which is right with the help of education.

  11. I agree with you, James, and would not join this group because of the name; but then, I am 71 years old so I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. To my age group "bad ass" is just plain "bad."

    That said, I've changed my mind somewhat after reading the comments. If this group managed to attract such a big following, then perhaps the name was a good idea after all. Once the sleeping giant of teachers, students and parents is aroused, there will be big, positive changes for education.

  12. It isn't the name that troubles me so much, as the alliance between public school teachers and charter schoolers and homeschoolers, some of whom, quite frankly, have no skin in the game. I am particularly troubled by one moderator who is a homeschooler and the most unprofessional, childish, vindictive mod that it has ever been my misfortune to meet on-line. I'm still a member of the group, but growing more and more disillusioned, the longer I stay.

  13. I can see that you've come a long way since "filthy teaching." I agree with you about the badass name and I'm glad you changed yours.


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