Education Opinion

RSVP: Regrets Only

By Susan Graham — July 28, 2011 5 min read
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John Merrow sends his regrets:

I won't be reporting from Saturday's Save Our Schools March and Rally because my young granddaughters (and their parents) are visiting from Barcelona,

I totally understand Mr. Merrow. I’m a grandparent too and time with grandchildren is precious.

Jay Mathews,
nationally recognized education pundit at The Washington Post apparently will not be able make it either. He titled yesterday’s blog: School march won’t unite us, but so what? I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound dismissive. He must have thought about coming since he wrote

If I were at the "Save Our Schools" march around the White House, my sign would say "Bring Us Together." Too many of us who care about schools are picking at each other, but maybe I am expecting too much... Some of us want to focus on what is happening in classrooms.

The Post offices are only a few miles from the White House, so Jay knows just how miserably hot and humid it will be out there Saturday. But I guess I’m a little confused about the identity of the “some of us” to which he refers. Which ones of us comprise that “some of us?”

I’m also a little surprised by his choice of sign slogans. “Bring Us Together” seems a little inconsistent with Mathew’s usual willingness to live up to his blog’s name, Class Struggle. In most cases, he’s not shy about taking a position. Just last year he was consistently and adamantly supportive of Michelle Rhee’s themes of “Go Hard or Go Home.” I don’t recall him encouraging compromise as she closed schools and fired principals and teachers. When there were accounting errors, testing irregularities, teacher firings, union busting, politicization of her office, and incendiary comments in the press he seemed to agree that “sometimes you just have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” While I agree that it seems "...we rarely meet each other halfway,” it seems that “all of us” and not just “some of us” might need to be less focused on compliance and a little more open to compromise.

Fortunately, Valarie Strauss, Jay’s colleague at The Washington Post who blogs at The Answer Sheet, will be there, in her capacity of education opinion writer. And even though John Merrow will be busy with the grandkids, he posted that

...it's likely that PBS NewsHour will have a presence there. I regret missing the event, because I expect I would recognize a lot of people there. I wish everyone well.

John went on to say,

I have a question, however. The acronym SOS is catchy and convenient -- the internationally recognized cry for help. But what are protestors hoping to save our schools FROM? And, just as important, what are they FOR?

I guess this sort of surprised me. Merrow is one of the best minds in education reporting and so I thought he’d pick up on the symbolism of the SOS acronym. Here’s my interpretation:

The “catchy and convenient SOS acronym” is indeed a cry for help. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the message that educators, parents, and other supporters are trying to communicate is this. We need to Save Our Ship of public education. It is the great equalizer that has made America the land of opportunity for those who were born here and those who arrived here from distance shores. There’s no question that public education is floundering in rough water. War weary from the Policy Wars it is battered. Its crew of teachers have been under attack and they are disheartened and battle weary. And our passengers, America’s children, are at risk. With good intentions, it seems as if some stakeholders have seized on a different interpretation of SOS. They appear to believe the message is “Sink Our Ship of public education. It’s expensive and there’s too many aged and overpaid crew members. We could load the passengers into lifeboats and inflatable rafts. They’re young and can make do. And while most of them are Waiting for Superman, we try floating some new experimental boats. Meanwhile we can condemn the old tub, sell it as scrap metal, maybe turn a profit on the deal.”
Unless I misunderstand, this is misguided mission that these protesters are hoping to save our schools FROM. They believe that in the last twenty years we’ve wandered off course, unsuccessfully experimenting with other people’s children and attempting to privatize public education.

Because Merrow’s HUFFPOST piece linked to the Save Our Schools website, I was surprised that he didn’t find the answer to his second question--"More important, what are they FOR?” If you go to the site you’ll see a tool bar that says About. Pull that down and you’ll see Guiding Principles. Click on that to find this list of what these teachers, parents, and supporters are FOR:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

The site goes into more details if you’re interested and I’m surprised John missed it.
But, he did write that

I regret missing the event, because I expect I would recognize a lot of people there. I wish them well.

I hope the organizers who invested so much of their own time, money, and heart don’t take nonattendance on Saturday means non-interest because I, too have to RSVP with great regret. After twenty-eight years in the classroom, I have bad feet and two artificial knees and I can’t handle the heat and crowds. I expect that I, too, would recognize a lot of people there. I am so proud and blessed to claim you as colleagues. You know who you are.

I hope policymakers, stakeholders and the media understand that it isn’t just a protest about testing, tenure and retirement. Teachers aren’t asking for help, they are offering help in response to the distress signal that stakeholders have been sending ever since A Nation At Risk was published. The SOS agenda is doing what’s best for our children and their development. SOS marchers realize that 20% of our children live in poverty and to say that hunger, inadequate medical care, unsafe neighborhoods and dysfunctional families are not excuses is inexcusable. Practitioners and parents know instruction that is driven by the data from a single sitting test is developmentally inappropriate and it doesn’t prepare children to develop their own answers to the challenges of an unknown future. Participants see the unanticipated consequences when theoretical policy plans collide with the realities of implementation in the field. They know these things because they are the ones who see the faces of children not flowcharts and spreadsheets.

SOS marchers coming from all across America because they care about the children in their classrooms.They are not a problem to be dealt with or a distraction to be dismissed with “so what?” They are the first wave of an army of 4 million highly educated and motivated citizens in small towns, urban centers and suburban neighborhood. If our nation is serious about saving our schools, it is time to invite teachers to the policy table.

[Editorial note: Education Week Teacher is not affiliated with the Save Our Schools event; the views expressed in this opinion blog do not reflect the endorsement of Education Week or Editorial Projects in Education, which take no editorial positions.]

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table 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.