THE BLOG
03/30/2011 02:19 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2011

Can Everyone Please Shut Up and Listen!?

I used to be glad that so many people were talking about education. Now, I don't know what to believe anymore as everyone keeps talking and talking and talking. We're failing on international measures. we're doing fine. We need smaller class sizes; we should have larger class sizes. It's the teacher's union fault; it's the charter schools fault. We're Waiting for Superman; we're in a Race to Nowhere. We need more standardized tests; we need fewer standardized tests; we don't need standardized tests at all. Schools need philanthropy; philanthropists investing in schools are evil. Poverty is the biggest issue in educating our youth; there are no excuses for not educating our youth. On-line learning in the answer; there is no replacement for a good teacher. AAAGHHHH!!

Can we all just take a time-out from postulating and grandstanding on what will fix education? This means you Michelle Rhee. You, too, Randi Weingarten. No more Arne Duncan or President Obama or Chris Christie or Scott Walker or any other politician for that matter. Wendy Kopp press pause on the book tour. Bill Gates and Bill Cosby should stop talking, too.

The silence. Sweet, sweet silence. None of the rhetoric has gotten us anywhere. Budgets are being slashed again, teachers are being laid off again, No Child Left Behind is still the federal model and way over-due for re-authorization, and through it all, students are the ones being hurt.

The primary aim of education in the early grades is literacy. Having students learn to read so that in turn, they can read to learn. Better teachers include writing in literacy. Some, broaden the definition to include speaking. The best teachers -- the very best teachers -- see literacy more holistically and include thinking and listening. In this way, literacy becomes a tool whereby once an individual has read and listened to multiple viewpoints on a topic, that individual can think about their own view and articulate it by writing or speaking. No doubt all of the individuals above are masters of reading, writing, and certainly speaking. However, I have not seen much evidence of thinking and certainly nobody is listening. Everyone has skipped a step or two and need to go back.

If we could just preserve silence for some time to allow pundits and policy makers to think and listen we may start getting somewhere. As so many education reformers love to do, here are my five simple steps:

1. Stop talking and writing
2. Read and listen to opposing and alternative viewpoints from diverse groups of stakeholders including teachers, students, parents, communities other than your own, union leaders, business leaders, administrators, superintendents, et. al.
3. Process it all in continued silence. This is not about writing comments to a blog post or releasing a study to counter what that other study you read found or even a quick retort with your rehearsed line. Really take it in and think about where it fits within your framework for what it's going to take to help our teachers help our students.
4. Think about how your experiences as a student and perhaps your experiences as a parent of a student have shaped and even biased your views on what our schools need.
5. Resume your writing and speaking being mindful to take time-outs to listen and think.

I love reading, writing, thinking, and discussing education. There's just too much rhetoric that's all become white noise to me. I have my ideas on how to improve teaching and learning but recognize that those ideas improve when I listen and read others who think differently, process their ideas in relation to mine, and make informed decisions on what to push forward on and what to alter. Isn't that what democracy is supposed to be about? It's not about winning an argument in the present; it's about winning the future for our students.