Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Advocacy in an Age of Acceptance

Has anyone ever considered the downside of an accepting society?

For some reason that question popped in my head tonight as I was re-re-re-re-reading Chinua Achebe's essay in response to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (the essay is titled "An Image of Africa" for those who are interested in reading it). The most surprising idea in Achebe's essay is that Western psychology needs Africa's otherness in order to define its own success. Looking at his analysis, there is little that can be said to challenge his argument.

I was also thinking about politics and advocacy. I live outside of Washington, D.C. Politics is a way of life here like you would not believe. Lately, those politics have been given free reign as we experience seismic shifts of our own within departments and between people. Some people in the school have been asked to step down as leadership. Others have had class "scheduled" away from them in an effort at reprisal for perceived slights against the administration. People have gone from upset to angry. Politically, we are at a crisis point.

Then, I stop and think. See, a very important decision for the School Board in my home county has crept up and made victims of more than just teacher salaries. Now, the gap patrol is seeking to fill in the needed money by slashing the contracts of 11 and 12 month employees to just 10 months. There are thousands of employees in this county. Only 800 are in this predicament. Yet, there is enough outcry and organization that they may not take the 11 and 12 months anyway.

This organized rebellion is managed because the managers are the leaders. They set the rules; rules that are used to keep teachers from advocating for themselves. Meanwhile, administrators send out e-mails advocating for themselves, and getting results.

What do other teachers say about this? Anything but what should be said. Some are frustrated but unwilling to speak up. Some say they can't care because they are disappointed. None feel like they can do anything or else risk employment.

This fear and complacency is why events like the Advocacy Day are so important. Education is a communal, social enterprise. Who will educate students if the teachers don't feel they can do their jobs? Who will send their children if they lose faith in the schools? Who will run the day-to-day business of the school if the administrators are busy canvassing for their salaries? If we do not cooperate, then the whole mess falls apart.

The NCTE National Advocacy Day is a chance for us to stop and remember that we do have a say in how we are assessed, how we teach, and how we help students succeed. It reminds us that politicians and administrators sometimes need to be reminded that teachers are career professionals who are unafraid to voice their concerns to make education a better process.

Literacy education is particularly important to how schools work. History, science, math, and English all require that students read. Small engine repair, agriculture, and auto body classes require that students read. Health and Physical Education require that students be able to read. The focus on literacy that the LEARN act provides is an essential part of making our schools more focused and successful instutions.

I hope that tomorrow results in a focused and clear message of how English educators believe literacy should be handled in our schools. I'll follow up this week-end after Advocacy Day is over.

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