Teaching Opinion

We Can’t Keep Quiet: What the Women’s March Means for Teachers

By Nancy Flanagan — January 24, 2017 3 min read
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I’m a teacher. By nature and training, I like things neat and organized, a clear learning goal for every lesson and a classroom where everyone takes turns speaking and listening.

The Women’s March on Saturday—in all 700+ of its incarnations, scattered across the globe—was none of those things. It was a glorious mess, diverse in its themes and aims and faces, spilling out of its planned boundaries, programs and schedules. It was also empowering, joyful and transformative.

All the things we say we want learning to be.

As it happened (completely randomly), I ended up standing in front of the Department of Education, at 4th and Independence, in D.C., behind the speaker’s platform, where we could hear the inspiring words of America Ferrera and Gloria Steinem, even though we couldn’t see them. I have photos of the wall-to-wall crowds congregated in front of the monolithic gray U.S. Department of Education building, contrasting splashes of colorful citizenry, doing exactly what we say teachers should do: demonstrate critical thinking.

I’m still processing the experience, considering what it means, today and for the next few years. As a teacher, an advocate for public education and for children, how do I reconcile “alternative facts” and fake news with the essential and important truth of millions feeling compelled to gather and organize? How can any of us put our heads down and do as we’re told, knowing what we know?

I’m thinking, for example, about the black nurses from Flint with whom we shared two (wet and freezing) stone benches, taking a load off. They came down on a bus, determined to tell more people about working in a hospital where the water they used to wash their hands was suspect, even with filters and reassurances from the inspector. While they were happy to talk about #FlintLivesMatter, they rolled their eyes at the fuzzy pink hats and “This P*ssy Grabs Back” signs. Trump was just another rich, entitled white man running roughshod over the disenfranchised. They had bigger fish to fry.

Much has been written about the unclear purpose of the Women’s Marches and the struggle to build equity into the leadership structure. It’s easy to criticize any event—even a global happening that appears to be a flashpoint, the beginning of a movement.

As a member of the Organizing Committee of the Save Our Schools March in 2011, I remember only too well the bitter arguments over who spoke for the movement, whose perspectives were correct, whose money and leadership gave them the right to identify our core principles. I can’t imagine an organically occurring movement without those internal struggles.

There are always overlapping and confused goals, politics, principles, heroes and villains. There is no lesson plan with a clear and measurable goal to write on the board. Resistance is always going to be messy. We don’t measure the success of such an experience, however. We feel it, in our bones.

If you were paying attention, there was a rich and diverse learning curriculum for the Marches. There was math, of course, and history. There was humor and literature and climate science and cultural pride. And there was music. Women could not keep quiet.

When it became clear that there were many “marches” happening and we may not be able to do what teachers prefer to do—follow directions—we set off down an unauthorized street with hundreds of thousands of pink-hatted friends, as drummers played, children danced and old ladies using canes were helped over curbs. Two police officers, a man and a woman, stood on the roof of their cruiser with a bullhorn, telling us to go left, go left. They’d opened up another street to accommodate crowds. We all went left.

What a day. When great cities and small towns became the ultimate global classroom.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.