I've been called a lot of names in my life; some good, some bad, most true. But recently, a new adjective has been added to the mix: radical.
At first, I was kind of offended. After all, Americans don't really take too well to so-called radicals, and being "radical" seems like a one-way ticket to irrelevance. Plus, I know real, honest-to-goodness radicals, and I don't think they'd want their well-earned title diluted through its application to a J.Crew-wearing schoolteacher turned blogger and housewife.
(That, and some of these people want to apply the term "revolutionary" to people who advocate for ramping up the same tired "reforms" we've been trying for years. They also like to label those of us who advocate for a more thoughtful approach to school reform as "laggards." So at any given time, you can be both radical and a laggard for disagreeing with the status quo, and people who want to pump up the status quo are "revolutionaries." I hear the cries of tortured words...)
Anyway, as I often do when criticized, I started self-assessing. I scoured my writing, my actions, and my core beliefs. Sure, I can be blunt (by local standards, anyway; I fit right in back in my original home, the NYC metro area). Yes, my sense of humor is occasionally sarcastic. But am I radical? Really?
After comparing my own views to what more "mainstream" types consider stylish and "pro-reform," I think I've figured out where I -- and a lot of my friends and allies -- crossed the line into "radicalism" (or "laggardism," depending on the particular moment at which your labeler is speaking). See how many of these apply to you!
You might be a radical laggard if:
- You think children learn in different ways and on different timetables, and that they and their teachers shouldn't be humiliated and/or punished for succumbing to natural human variation.
- You think school learning should bear at least some resemblance to learning in the real world, instead of being pared down to easily measured (packaged and sold) discrete bits.
- You think our president should stop criticizing parents for "not having a book in the house" and buying video games when he and his Secretary of Education support spending billions of dollars nationwide on toys like faulty data and accountability systems... at a time when school districts are so broke they're shortening the school week, adding furlough days, laying off teachers and librarians, cutting transportation and skimping on basic supplies. (And, yeah -- It's really, really not OK to suggest that it's unfair to judge teachers on student performance when we can't even guarantee that kids can get to the building in the first place, or that there will be enough supplies -- or desks! -- to go around when they do.)
- You think school districts should actually try to make the best use of the evaluation systems they already have before deciding they're "broken" and that they need to spend millions of dollars to fix them.
- You think a broad coalition of parents, community groups, and teachers should have a genuine say in major decisions about their schools, and that their decisions should be guided by the best available evidence. (The Denver Post calls that "fear-mongering".)
- You think that if other countries are ending the outdated practice of publicly shaming suspected criminals, America shouldn't be promoting the practice of publicly shaming teachers.
- You think people should be required to have classroom teaching experience before running a school or school district.
- You think school leaders who are caught blatantly lying should have to suffer at least the same punishment -- sorry, "accountability" -- as teachers who are "caught" telling the truth.
- You think public school teachers, parents, and students should get more airtime in the school reform discussion than random celebrities.
- You think concepts like "collaboration" and "accountability" should work in multiple directions, not just "least powerful to most powerful."
- You think that a work environment that reduces grown people to tears is not a good learning environment for children.
- You get angry when you witness this kind of you-know-what on a daily basis.
If you find yourself nodding along to any of these statements, go ahead and don a scarlet 'R'. Or 'L'. Or 'D', for daring to disagree with those who speak power to truth, instead of the other way around.