THE BLOG
01/02/2013 11:11 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Educators Testing Their Courage After Newtown

Swimming midstream between holiday reflections and New Year's resolutions, there will be a lot more time, attention, and line space devoted to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

A mild kerfuffle erupted in the last couple of weeks over who in the education community could claim ownership of some of the selfless heroism displayed by Sandy Hook staff. Notable reform opponent Diane Ravitch, in a blog post paying tribute to these educators, happened to mention that they belonged to their professional union.

Much "pearl clutching" ensued from the strictly "reformist" crowd that the event was being politicized to make pro-union, and anti-reform, arguments. Now, most sensible individuals, myself included, completely understand the point Ravitch, and subsequently Chicago Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis, was trying to make. That is, don't be so quick to cast aspersions at the contrived "lazy union teacher." They just may take a bullet for you one day.

But in the wake of such a terrible tragedy, I can also understand the hesitation to use the events at Sandy Hook to make ideological arguments, regardless of how sensible. I'm still leery of making these arguments now; yet, we immediately constrain what we can learn from anything by censoring controversial and courageous conversations.

So, in making a new argument, let me first reiterate an important detail: educators at Sandy Hook died protecting children. I think we can all agree on that. Now, let us hope and pray that no one else must experience such a horrific test of his or her courage. There are, however, limitless other opportunities teachers can avail themselves of right now to protect children. Again, I'm not suggesting tragedies as significant as Sandy Hook, but smaller, less visible ones.

For instance, the vast majority of educators with whom I worked over the years understand the negative consequences of excessive standardized testing. Teachers with actual classroom experience understand the excessive weight of outcomes based accountability and realize that, after more than a decade, it's not working. Educators comprehend the crushing effects of poverty and are confused when limited resources are spent on test security, for example, rather than the arts.

Shifting our focus away from testing, from scripted curricula and detailed pacing guides, and spending less on test infrastructure at the expense of more immediate needs, are important ways to protect children. So, how will you test your courage today? Will you refrain from one test, just one? Can you perhaps begin preparations for testing one week later, maybe two, and teaching something important instead? Could you test your courage by starting a book club with colleagues that offers an alternative view to what the county superintendent supports?

Let me be clear: none of the above holds a candle to taking a bullet. Although, there are innumerable other everyday ways schoolchildren are being harmed in terms of their social and academic well-beings. So, to all of those educators out there, consider testing your courage in all ways protective of children. This is not to say that educators are not already doing what they can. But most of the ways I'm suggesting to protect children from undue harm, require doing the job we love to do, and nothing else at all.