Share the Pressure

Taking a public stand for what you believe can seem like an uphill battle.  You put yourself out there for all to see.  You feel alone at times.  It is normal to feel self-doubt now and then.  It is common to question whether or not what you’re doing is worth it.  Activism can be overwhelming, and being an activist takes courage.  It’s easy to think, someone else will handle this.  Or, things aren’t that bad yet so I have time.  Or, I won’t really be able to make a difference.  So, is it worth it?  I’m here to tell you that it is!

People throughout history have sparked remarkable and positive change in the world.  There are many names that we will never forget.  We remember them and celebrate their lives as great leaders and champions of social justice.  We look to their charisma and are inspired.  We make change one person at a time.  Enormous changes came about because of the motivation of individuals who were not afraid to speak out against a system they saw as flawed.  Perhaps most famously, Martin Luther King Jr. sparked monumental changes for African-American civil rights in this country because he had the courage to take the public stage.  Nelson Mandela spent 20 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid.  Rosa Parks courageously challenged the status quo in  1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.  In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn and was arrested 10 days later.  Betty Friedan became known as the mother of second-wave Feminism.  And most recently, Lily Ledbetter set the stage in the fight for equal pay for women in the workplace.

Admittedly, my list skips around and leaves out many deserving individuals and groups of people who have worked against “business as usual.”  My goal here isn’t to talk about history so much.  I am certainly here to acknowledge the achievements of these individuals.  But more importantly I’m here to give thanks to the many unknowns who worked alongside their famous counterparts, advocating for what they believed was fair and right.  This supporting cast were integral in the successful challenges against various forms of hegemony.

You might have already seen the following video about first followers.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

There is a strong movement occurring right now!  Activism is blooming and it is beautiful!  I am thrilled to be part of it, however small my part may be.  I believe that the opposition to current education reform has momentum.  We are growing and organizing and getting better at our work every day!  Each day across the state of New York, more and more people decide they’ve had enough with the excessive testing at their schools.  Regional groups of outraged teachers and parents are popping up!  This might get ugly, but we will make change!

I can’t help but ponder how future historians will review and record this fight for public schools.  Who, will it be determined, are our leaders?  Who inspire us?  Who will go down in the history books, never to be forgotten?  To be sure, people like Diane Ravitch should be recognized.  Her efforts are tireless and the Network for Public Education is a uniting force.  There are many that have left an important mark and there will be many more who become our motivators.  There are teachers like Kris Nielsen, whose public resignation went viral.  And of course, we all recognize the faces when celebrities like Matt Damon or Jon Stewart speak on education.

Again, I’d like to draw attention to the many unknown people out there making a very real difference with their actions, both big and small.  These are parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens.  They are all ages and come from all walks of life.  Whether they work in education, have children in the system, or just see the true value of public education being deflated before their eyes, they take action.

Whether you’ve been in the fight for quite a while now, or if you just joined yesterday, YOU are important!  Whether you just started asking a few questions at your child’s school, or if you are relentlessly making phone calls and writing letters, we need YOU.  Whether your voice is loud and constant, or soft and seldom, we want to hear it!  We need everybody to consider how public education is being damaged, and in your own way, say that this is NOT acceptable.  If you’re out there nodding your head in agreement, but are afraid to speak up.   I understand.  It’s scary to stand in opposition to a system that the “powers that be” say is necessary, especially if your job is at risk and in light of the many fear tactics about funding cuts being used to scare us into compliance.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher.  This teacher has been very vocal against excessive testing and the many mandates imposed on his school.  He’s worn out.  He’s been warned.  “Tone it down… or else…”  He’s frustrated because he’s the one putting himself out there for critique, and for potential reprimand.  He’s fighting for his colleagues and for his students, and he knows he has a lot of support out there.  But he’s starting to wonder why he’s risking it all while so many do not dare to speak out publicly.  Teachers are in a bind right now.  Most (almost all) can’t just publicly resign to make a bold statement.  They need these jobs.  And the threats they face for speaking out of turn is very real.  Do they act in support of their employer?  Or do they act in the best interests of their students?   Teachers who are also parents are in the toughest position, especially if their kids attend the school where they teach.

Parents are scared too.  It’s hard to go against the grain, especially when you’re the only one in your district voicing concerns.  They are quickly seen as the thorn in the school’s side.  Schools and other parents are pressuring activists to back off or risk hurting our schools.  Nobody wants to be the one to cause pain to our schools, and hence to our children.

And so I say, “share the pressure!”  What I mean is that not everybody has to be the relentless activist putting everything on the line.  Do we need those people?  Absolutely!  But if you can’t be that person, that’s ok.  What you can do, teachers and parents, is express your concerns.  Do it and then fall back into the crowd and let someone else state their concerns.  Make a small challenge to the status quo.  Do what you can.  Do what you’re comfortable with.  But if you are concerned, please don’t be silent.  We need more people saying the same thing.  That is what will validate the loudest voices–the leaders!  When these small challenges become more common place, their cumulative effect makes it easier for everybody to speak up.

Mark Naison is Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and a staunch advocate for quality public education.  His recent comments impressed me.

Because the NY State Education Triumverate, Gov Andrew Cuomo, Regents Chair Meryl Tisch, and State Education Commissioner John King, have no sound arguments to justify the non stop testing they are imposing upon the children of New York and the teacher evaluations based on them, they can only resort to threats and intimidation when communicating with parents, teachers, principals, and local school officials. It’s a pretty ugly scenario, and in the long run, one that will backfire.

A whole lot of people are gong to be surprised-none more than school reformers, the politicians that back them and the billionaires that fund both of them- by the mass movements that are going to erupt in response to school closings and abusive testing. These movements are still in their infancy, but in the next three or four years they are going to lead to massive disruptions and force many who have thus far been silent to take a stand in favor of the protesters. Mark my words. I can feel something building. And not just in Chicago. Parents all over the country are totally fed up with have their children’s school experience ruined by testing and test prep and by the way their voice is totally ignored in decisions about school closings and charter school co-locations.

I can feel something building too.  We’re angry and we just can’t take it anymore.  I urge you to be ignored no longer!  Take a stand.  Do what you can.  We’ll all share the pressure and take back our public schools!

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