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Who, Me?

Publication Date: 2009-09-17

Teachers MUST speak out. They must do it for children, for the preservation of teaching, for democracy itself. And here's a way to make this easier than you might think.

I write this to reach out to teachers who feel trapped in a nightmare of test prep and other Standardisto mandates from which they can't seem to escape.

Longer ago than I want to admit, I was a teacher who felt totally isolated in her classroom. I had a vision of how to teach--from reading books by Jim Herndon, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and a host of others--but I had nobody to talk to about this vision.

Joining NCTE brought me colleagues, which is why, despite my horror at what the leadership chooses to do these days, I try to stay loyal. I know there are thousands of teachers in that organization trying to do the right thing. And I hope that, like me, the organization brings them kindred spirits to sustain them.

Early on in my teaching career I started writing. New York Teacher, the rag published by the AFT, insisted that nobody would read book reviews, but I continued to submit long reviews in the style of New York Review of Books, and then harangue the editor until he agreed to publish them. I didn't even get free review copies of the books.

I received wonderful mail about those reviews, and here's my best story. My physicist husband had arranged for an Einstein celebratory conference in upstate New York, and noted theoretical physicist and Einstein collaborator and biographer Banesh Hoffman was the keynote speaker. When my husband picked Hoffman up at the airport, the first thing Hoffman said was, "You related to the woman who writes those reviews for New York Teacher?

As it happens Hoffman cared a whole lot about public education--in places other than the ivory tower--and had written the classic The Tyranny of Testing (first published in 1962 and still in print). A professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, he read book reviews in New York Teacher.

Who could know?

And that's my point here. You have no idea of the power of your voice until you exercise it. As a teacher, your voice has been systematically silenced by a union that pretends to represent you, by professional organizations that decide to collaborate with corporate interests, and by a culture that ignores you.

With the help of EPATA (Educators & Parents Against Test Abuse), born out of a meeting in Fresno, CA in September 2009, Stop National Standards is working to help you find very specific avenues in which you can be heard.

We publish an ACTION page, actions both local and national, that you might join. These actions range from writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper about the Baca Bill to joining in the University of California strike, to silently putting cards in public places.

OK, being a shy person (except in print), I admit that the Say YES card distribution is currently one of my favorite actions. Go have a latte and leave a card. Go to the library, and leave a few cards. Sort your mail at the counter in the post office and leave a card.

You don't need to say or write a word to do this. This morning I went to Staples and picked up my first 1,000 cards. Tomorrow I'm going out and having a latte.

You MUST do something--for the sake of the children, for the preservation of teaching as a profession, for the very fiber of democracy itself, and for the survival of your own soul.

Silence is no longer an option.

Choose an action you can do, and DO it. And please write and tell me about what you're doing.


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