Friday, May 17, 2013

Do we have to choose between student voice and teacher voice?


It turns out my support of student activist Jeff Bliss caused at least one teacher to announce on his blog that he wants to quit Tweeting and blogging.  


Friends bombarded me with the post, accompanied by comments like, “This is great. We don’t need someone like that representing our profession.” Or, “Wow. He must really be threatened by students being heard. I think that’s a good sign.”

I represent, apparently,all that makes him want to quit. The problem however, is that what he expresses in his blog is a poorly articulated, almost despondent rant. The discouragement that he is feeling is completely understandable; he sees Bliss’s attack as one more on the pile laid upon teachers whose hands and voices are tied tighter every day.  But what he expresses can have a dampening effect on those trying to amplify the voices that matter.

This is about more than one frustrated student’s angry words, and the shouts of praise and derision that followed. This is about whether a voice representing one view can marginalize or even erase another.

In his blog, Red Lines and Highlights, he says:

People like Nielsen, Seth Godin, et al would rather trump up theStudent Voice for their own purposes and marginalize whatever contrarian teacher voice may exist in the conversation.  And this is so prevalent that it has led me to ramble on incoherently on a Sunday night about how I just don’t think I can do *this anymore.
(Note: “this” refers to blogging and tweeting)

Let me give short shrift to the actual accusations:

Have I concocted a story with an intent to deceive?
In my post I was clear that I was responding to a particular video that I verified as authentic as well as reactions and interviews I saw in social and mainstream media. There was nothing concocted. No intent to deceive.

Do I use the student voice for my own purposes?
Guilty as charged here. I have a transparent purpose and passion in supporting the voice of students. However, I don’t discriminate. I happen to do that for educators and parents too.

Do I marginalize contrarian teachers?
I’m not even sure I understand what this means. Some of the teachers I respect and highlight most often are contrarian.

What I know is that I have published a blog for more than five years that honors and celebrates the voice of the teacher, but not any teacher. I honor the teacher who often thinks outside of box, the teacher who thinks as if there is no box, the teacher who has the courage to challenge the status quo, and the teachers who think of themselves as students. I have never censored a teacher (or anyone else) on my blog or in the groups I moderate. I have made a point to make it clear that all opinions are valued, even those with which I disagree.  

The blogger goes on to explain why blogging probably isn’t worth it anymore for him:

It’s typical for Nielsen and bloggers like her, who have more in common with pundits than anyone else:  have a viewpoint/agenda, see something that fits; wait just long enough for it to trend;  swoop in with tweets/a post/an article; get supportive comments, reposts, mentions, retweets; and put another feather in the cap.  And quite frankly, it’s why I think blogging about education probably isn’t worth it anymore.

Color me confounded.  A public school educator since the 90s, I work among students, parents, and educators in my day-to-day life.  I observe, I interact, I coach, I guide, I encourage, I think and I write. I use what tools I have to make learning great.  For this to happen,  teachers, parents, and students must be heard.

My agenda is to support their voices as much as I can. I don’t look for something that fits my agenda, and wait for it to trend. These are ongoing conversations. My online presence has a consistent message and focus on these topics. There is no shame in participating in conversations and sharing ideas about that which we are passionate.

I’m not following. Why wouldn’t that be worth it?

Why the negativity?
Next he explains why he is negative toward bloggers “like me.”

I don’t know if it’s writer’s block, burnout, or a symptom of some sort of depression, but every post I have drafted and many I have published since I got back from winter break has been negative.  Not toward students, per se, but toward other educators and other bloggers, like those I follow on Twitter and Nielsen, who seem to specialize in talking points and rhetoric to a degree that I can make a drinking game out of the number of times I see them use buzzwords or “hot” terms.  And that rhetoric so dominates the conversation that I feel like it’s not worth it to try and have a rational, honest conversation, and that even if I wound up doing so, my voice wouldn’t matter.

I stand accused of having talking points. Really? Most successful bloggers understand that having a consistent message and focus in  writing and conversations is not a bad thing, it’s a best practice.

For this teacher and, others like him, whose feathers are ruffled when teachers come out in support of students...
We get it: you live where the rubber meets the road. You’re in there with kids and curriculum and desks and chairs and lesson plans. You’re a teacher; you have pressure from above and from below, and now you think you see it coming in at you from your peers.

The blogger ends with this unfortunate outlook.
It seems that the conversation about education as it is via social media has been happening this way for years and as noble as Jeff Bliss’s champions might think his “I Am Spartacus” moment might be, it won’t really change anything except get a black mark on his history teacher’s record.

He is right. One single action will never change the conditions in which teachers work. That’s why I work to amplify the voices that matter.

Jeff Bliss at eighteen may rise up to the height of an adult, but in the video, he’s not quite there yet; he understands that there is a problem, and focuses his vitriol at the human representation of that problem: the teacher who handed him his packet. We are adults, and have the maturity to understand that he is not yelling at his teacher who seems at a glance to be no great pedagogue.

Learning from students (including Jeff Bliss) and educators has been, to me, a great pleasure.  Our voices matter and we will continue to use them to create real change.

As my friend David Bernstein said:
I really don't care that much about the specifics of the situation... I'm interested in whether this will raise awareness and be repeated elsewhere...

I think it will.
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