Opinion
Education Opinion

Introducing Deborah Meier

By Deborah Meier — February 26, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Since I’m writing my introduction after Diane wrote (and shared) hers, I have a chance to make mine a “reply"—to set the stage for our future blogs.

First of all, Diane and I have been arguing for a lot longer than she mentions. Diane called me maybe 15 years ago to suggest that since I had been a critic of some of her works, why didn’t she come and actually see some of mine—the school I was working in. So we met, for the first time, at Central Park East Secondary School in East Harlem. And we bonded thereafter, even as we continued to criticize each other’s ideas—especially when it came to matters of education policy. This is easier to do now—many years later—when we are both at New York University.

Second, our histories are interestingly different. I grew up in New York—for 8 years in what was once the rural suburbs, and later in Manhattan. My family were always engaged in politics—liberal, labor-oriented, (my mother once ran for City Council), as well as in the world of Jewish intellectual and social causes. I went to privileged independent progressive schools, then to Antioch and finally the University of Chicago for a Master’s Degree in History. So Diane and I are both historians by training, if not in professional focus. I almost went on for a doctorate but instead had three kids and got involved on a semi-fulltime basis in the socialist, civil rights and peace movements of the 50s-60s in Chicago—mostly using my house as the base of operations. I was a founding member with Michael Harrington of a group called Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. (I’ve always had a penchant for small “schools” of thought.)

Third, when my kids were about school age, I tried to earn a little money the easiest way I could: as a substitute teacher on Chicago’s southside. It turned out to be the hardest thing I had ever done, and I had no natural talent for it. But it was an extraordinary experience. These schools, it struck me, were hardly designed in ways that would help produce a feisty, smart, compassionate citizenry. Fortunately our democracy has survived as well as it has despite schooling that was more oriented toward compliance than democracy. What could it be if... I wondered.

One thing led to another and I’m still wondering.

For the next 40-something years I’ve been wondering from inside schools: as a parent of publicly educated urban kids, as a kindergarten (and Head Start) teacher, a founding member and sort-of-head of a number of new small democratically-governed public elementary and secondary schools in NYC and Boston. Always looking for the cracks that could expand the democratic nature of classrooms and schools. Along the way I got the necessary credentials and began to write about my work-mostly for the families of the kids in the schools in which I worked, for Dissent and The Nation, among others, and finally wrote a few books, starting with “The Power of Their Ideas” in 1995. My political “organizing” largely focused on trying to get networks of teachers and parents together—being a rep to NYC’s AFT local, forming the North Dakota Study Group, The Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition of Essential Schools, The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and lately the Progressive Ed Network of New England and a Campaign for Children to demand that we support playfulness at least for our youngest children! It helped to receive support from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation, in the form of a hefty award in the late ‘80s.

If only our voices, those closest to the children, would be heard in the halls of policy makers how much easier it would be to do good work on the ground, we thought. Even when we weren’t being heard, being in the midst of vibrant, living and complicated schools sustained my hopes. I’m missing that now.

All this leads to my current worry: the threatened future of public education itself. I worry also about the ties that bind my colleagues together through their unions. These two powerful common concerns connect Diane’s work and my own. That we still disagree on so many other matters fascinates me; hopefully it will interest others as well.

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP