Teaching Opinion

Welcoming Mike Klonsky to Bridging Differences

By Deborah Meier — April 10, 2014 3 min read
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Today, Deborah Meier bids farewell—for now—to Democracy Prep’s Robert Pondiscio and introduces her next co-blogger, Mike Klonsky. The blog will take a short break and then return with Mr. Klonsky’s first post on Tuesday, April 22.

Dear Robert,

I’ll be keeping a little book about topics to argue over when we resume our conversation in the fall. I find myself setting certain articles aside, even now, to pass on to you when we are no longer blogging.

By the way, as an educator my focus was always specifically on my colleagues and the kids in front of me, not the future of the world. Just their specific future. I figured I was paid to be the best advocate for their present and future as I could be—in the role I played.

But if I had chosen to be a librarian, or a lawyer, or a housing expert, or environmental activist, I’d have done the same. Although none by themselves are an answer to the changes that need to be made to give today’s children (and my grandchildren and someday great-grandchildren) what they deserve, need, and which we owe them!

And also, I’ll send you stuff in coming months—but you are wrong! Just plain wrong. The standards are a curriculum and imply a pedagogy, too. The way they recommend teaching reading places a particular emphasis on a particular approach (close-textual reading, etc). If I disagree? It covers particular events, genres, historical events, scientific principles—out of many more that could be chosen. And it asks the questions in ways that require a particular pedagogy to answer correctly. Or just a focus on “testing skills” with this particular set of standards in mind. And for grades prek-3 teachers (ask them) have been told they must follow the recommended timetable of skills. Some resisted, some have chosen to quit before being fired.

Is anybody consciously selfish? Does anyone say to himself, “well, this may produce a shoddier product, but without it we won’t meet our quota, and I won’t get my bonus”? I don’t know, but even I am occasionally tempted to do things that are especially useful to my self-interest, even if a wee bit ... crooked? wrong? questionable?

But—let’s argue these another time, and meanwhile enjoy our areas of agreement.

But on April 22, another passionate voice joins me on this blog. That Tuesday my very old friend Mike Klonsky (who is nowhere near as old—and wise—as I am) will be leading off on something he thinks we might find juicy to tackle. We’ve thrown out some possibilities, but I don’t yet know what he has decided.

Mike and I have interestingly parallel life and political experiences. We each have long histories as activists in left-wing social movements and were in organizations which were ideologically on different and often opposing sides of some of the old left sectarian battles. In fact, our “sects” probably never, or rarely, agreed on anything. But what we did agree on—equality, for example, and standing up for your rights, for another—were and remain pretty basic.

Somewhere along the way we got to know each other. Possibly around the Coalition of Essential Schools, the Small Schools Movement, etc. In the ‘90s? Do you recall, Mike? We have Chicago friends and colleagues in common, in and out of the educational world. So I often accept speaking engagements in Chicago, where I also lived for nearly 15 years, so we can visit schools and discuss the world together.

And over the past decade I’ve become close to everybody in his family. He has a teaching daughter, whose work in a small neighborhood school I admire, and another who spent the past seven years teaching and working with kids in Chicago’s juvenile detention center school. Now she works to help re-integrate incarcerated children back into public school. Both do wonderful work. And Susan, his wife, keeps us all going straight—and honest. But, as Susan knows, Mike and I can’t stop arguing. Loudly. To outsiders the arguments may seem trivial, but we are deeply invested in them. So I’m hoping over the next few months you, my readers, will enjoy them as much as we do. ( And we both may have some interesting retakes on our work around small schools and choice.)


P.S. By the way, being 83 is great. Even better than 82.

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