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What Can You Do With the Anger?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — July 31, 2011 4 min read

It has been quite awhile since I have blogged. There are many reasons for that, but suffice it to say life just got in the way. I have thought about getting back to it for a while, but an ongoing “conversation” via twitter and with other notable edubloggers has pushed me into action. I have followed the recent events and conversations - the S.O.S. march on Washington, D.C., the political decision-making aimed at tearing down public education systems and attacking those people who have dedicated their lives to it, and the handing over of our country’s education system to those with no background and understanding in teaching and learning and whose motives are questionable, at best. So, I have decided the very least I could do was add one more voice to the conversation.

Last week, Will Richardson published a blog entry “How Can You Not Be Angry?”. I must note here that I began using social media and other Web tools as a direct result of having Will as a teacher in my doctoral program at Seton Hall University (along with Alan November). The course was one of the most valuable with regard to having an impact on my professional practice. I have followed Will’s work and the work of many other edu-bloggers for the past few years and have grown professionally as a result.

Much of what Will wrote in that post I have wrestled with for quite a while, as I indicated in my comment. Yet, for all my frustration, concern, and - yes - anger, I do not know what to do more than I am already doing. And what, you may ask, am I already doing? Well, I am working as a principal in a middle school in Pennsylvania with a talented and committed group of teachers trying to shift the teaching and learning so that we are preparing all students for their very uncertain futures; so that we are providing an education that is engaging, meaningful, and relevant to all students; so that we are addressing the needs and concerns of the parents and members of the community who sometimes are resistant to an education system that does not resemble the same one they experienced. We are doing this in the midst of significant budget cuts, expanding high-stakes accountability measures, and continual and intense criticism via mainstream media and politicians.

And perhaps, that is not enough. Gary Stager responded to my comment about not knowing what to do by providing examples from the past of people who stood up and took action

Learn about the struggle for voting rights, civil rights, women's rights, Watergate, Vietnam, the Iraq War and the role labor unions played in creating the US middle class and I suspect you will know what to do.

and I cannot argue with much that he said. Although, marching and protesting and speaking out against perceived ills and injustices is not necessarily the best way to keep one’s job; and taking actions that could result in becoming an unemployed voice for meaningful and relevant change in education would probably not be a wise choice. Yet, I want to do more. I want to be part of those who are fighting like hell to save an education system that serves ALL children well, that provides equity in opportunities and quality experiences, that is not driven by for-profit corporations or personal agendas.

However, to “join the action,” I need to know where the action is and how to get in. You see, part of my frustration is that the ‘action,’ as I see it, exists mainly on-line through various social media networks. I follow people on Twitter (and some follow me), I read and comment on people’s blogs. Yet, I am not really “in” the group. And this is where, feeling as though I am back in middle school - one of those kids who wants to be part of the “in” group, feeling as though I could be/should be part of them - but outside the occasional and brief interaction, I stay on the outside looking in. I must say that Will has always been responsive to my questions, comments, and emails - something I appreciate, especially knowing how many people follow his work. Chris Lehman , likewise, is always very approachable and willing to have conversations, accommodate visits. There are others, too, to whom I have reached out and been well-received. Scott McLeod has actively ‘recruited’ educators to take part and develop an on-line presence. But, when I attended the ISTE conference in June, I felt awkward when I would see people who I followed on-line; people whose faces I knew, had interacted with on-line (albeit in one-way communication - my reading their words and responding). I wanted to approach them, to say hello, to engage in conversation, but I felt I would be acting more like a ‘groupie,’ than a colleague. That ‘barrier’ is a self-imposed one for sure, but I wonder how many other educators feel the same way?

Yes, I can initiate things within my realm - and I feel as though I have. But, I think about what Clay Shirky writes in Cognitive Surplus about opportunities for activities of real public or civil value:

Civic value rarely comes from sudden social conversions; nor does it bubble up from individual actions. It comes, instead, from the work of groups, small groups at first that grow in size and importance, the pattern of collaborative circles, communities and practices, and many other group patterns. If we want to create new forms of civic value, we need to improve the ability of small groups to try radical things . . .

So when Will asks “How Can You Not Do Anything?; when he writes about having conversations about what to do, about being a community that it is in a fight, I cannot help think that a significant part of the challenge is in determining what the real work is, who the groups are that are doing the work needed, and how to harness the cognitive surplus of individuals to try radical things with our education system. How do we move from individuals or small groups with passion, commitment, and a vision for a better K - 12 education system to a community that can take substantial and widespread action?

My return to blogging is my first step in addressing the challenge. If nothing else, it provides a venue for personal reflection about why I do the work I do. It also is a means of “putting myself out there” - as part of the community of edubloggers working towards a better future for the children in K - 12 education across the country. I am hoping it is just a first step.

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk 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.