Friday, July 18, 2014

Seeing Us in the Picture and the Picture in Us

This post is directly primarily to my colleagues in Adult Ed but the blogs listed (about halfway down the page) are recommended for all.

A lot is going on in the world of education.

Two big teachers unions - the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have been debating Common Core, the head of the US Department of Education, charter schools, diversity in the teaching side of the classroom (it's far less than the class side for those who don't know), tenure, the Vergara decision, and a number of other things.   Many of their debates were public and all of their resolutions are.  You can read about NEA's call for Head Fed Ed Arne Duncan to resign here and AFT's call for him to submit to "improvement plan" or resign here.  You can see lots of the debates on the union websites and You tube including this speech by Rev William Barber:

Clearly, change is afoot in teachers unions.  And by afoot, I mean from the ground up, with calls for change not just in US administration and policy but union administration and policy, as well. 

Note: Many Adult Ed teachers, like myself, belong to CFT - the California Federation of Teachers - which is a branch of AFT.  In Los Angeles, the biggest Adult School in California, teachers belong to UTLA which is part of both AFT/CFT and NEA/CTA. 

Were those enough letters or did you want more alphabet soup?

Meanwhile, those of us in Adult Ed, especially in California, especially in K12 Adult Schools, have been focusing all on our energy on survival.

This is understandable.  

What we need to remember, however, as we organize within and between schools and programs, push for student and teacher inclusion in the Regional Consortia planning process, email and visit legislators, and ask the Governor and the Department of Finance for stable K12 Adult School funding... 

is the connection between what is happening in Adult Ed in California, especially K12 Adult Schools, and what is happening in education all across the country.

If we don't, we either won't succeed, or we'll succeed in the short run but fail in the long.

We must see and understand the changes in how education is funded, what is taught, what is valued, who is valued, and who does and doesn't benefit from these changes. 

This makes things twice as hard for us as for other branches of education.  It also makes it twice as clear that we need to be aware and speak up about what we know to be true because we have twice as much riding on it.  Our programs are not just at risk of being hugely altered, they are at risk of being eliminated.  Which it makes it doubly important that we bring news of this to the larger community because without knowledge of what is happening in Adult Ed, the folks in the other branches of Public Education may never see the full and larger picture.  We are the missing piece.

Yes, it's hard. 

Life is hard, sometimes.

In fact, mostly, on this planet, it has been... and still is for a good number of the people riding on it.

Sometimes I ponder how we are the branch of public education charged with teaching citizenship.

If we are not willing to practice responsible citizenship, which includes participation in democracy, what gives us the right to teach it?

We are also the branch of public education charged with teaching the folks with the most hurdles to get over - barriers of language, poverty, dis/ability, literacy, resources, etc.

If we, ourselves, are not willing to leap a few hurdles...  to risk overwhelm, injury, or failure in the trying... what gives us the right to ask others to do so? 

Yes, we can speak English and teach English.  But does that gives us the right to ask someone to try harder than we're willing to?

At some point, we in Adult Education have to ask ourselves:  What are we teaching and why?

Many in Adult Ed teach immigrants.  We teach ESL, Family Literacy, Job Skills, and Citizenship.


Because we "believe in" democracy and the "American Way"? 

Because we care about our students, see their struggles, and want to give them tools to succeed here?  But only so far - not so far as to ourselves actually engage in real citizenship, real democracy, real understanding of the world and how it works or to encourage our students to do the same? 

Because we like the backwater nature of our jobs, out of the fray of K12, with a little more freedom, a little less structure, a little more humanity - until we're asked to give something more of ourselves than teaching...  until we're asked to take the same sort of risks we ask our students to take...  to challenge ourselves, exercise self-discipline, and put into practice what we know will make things better?

I say again:  Yes, this is hard. 

It takes effort.  Risks must be taken and mistakes may be made. At times we may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged, angry, tired, confused, and scared - the same way Adult Ed students sometimes feel as they pursue their GEDs and High School Diplomas, learn English, master new job skills, and become citizens. 

The same way anyone doing anything of real worth feels as they move through discomfort and into the deep joy of meaningful accomplishment. 

It's all scary, unknown, and what could ultimately save us.

It's also not the first time humans have taken risks to make things better and we're not in this all alone.  There are many of us of working to save and rebuild Adult Ed.  Many of us working to save and strengthen Public Education.  And many more of us who can do so.

To show us more of the bigger picture so that we can see where we fit in it, here are some blogs by writers focusing more on the K12 side of things.  I've pulled quotes from some of them and I've added a few comments.

1.  Mercedes Schneider's blog Deutsch29.   Mercedes teaches school by day and at night apparently never sleeps because her blog is gobstoppingly amazing.  Research research and more research. Every i is dotted and t's are crossed.

The following post is in response to the discussion about Common Core at the AFT Convention.  Remember that Adult Ed is also going Common Core.  Already there are workshops at CCAE and Catesol Conferences about how to teach ESL the Common Core way.  And the GED is now Common Core.  And the GED being used in most of California (but not Los Angeles!) is the Pearson version.  It costs more and it certainly makes Pearson a few bucks.  As in many.  Here's the post:

And here's a quote to consider with my highlights:

So, to those teachers who are tempted to take AFT money in order to “”make CCSS better,” let me caution you that your work will become part of the CCSS that is ultimately locked into place and handed over to the likes of Pearson for nationwide marketing purposes.  Pearson plans to make itself indispensable and benefit handsomely from CCSS by offering assessments, curriculum to accompany those assessments, teacher development, and “data driven adaptive learning.”
Imagine how much better it will be for Pearson to be able to advertise that CCSS was “rewritten by teachers.”  That is a phenomenal selling point, not only for Pearson, but also for any influential, pro-CCSS individual taking to the cameras.

2. Anthony Cody's blog Living in Dialogue.  Anthony taught middle school science in Oakland for many years.  He started the Network for Public Education with Diane Ravitch. 

In this post, Common Core-Aligned Tests and the New Pearson GED: Failure By Design?, he discusses Pearson and the new GED.

Here's a quote:

So the key is that those who design the tests are making an intentional decision regarding how many students pass or fail. A 30% pass rate on Common Core tests is not some objective statement regarding how many students are ready for career and college. It is a predetermined outcome, which has a whole set of assumptions in it regarding what "college and career ready" means.

3.  Jose Luis Vilson's blog The Jose Vilson.  Jose teaches math in New York city.  He addresses many issues in his blog including issues of race, class, and gender.  This is a topic often left out of discussions about Adult Education even though race, class, and gender has a great deal to do with who is in our classrooms and why and who will be there in the future and what is taught to them and why.  Never forget that California is the 8th largest economy in the world.  Whatever happens here, someone, somewhere, is making money.  California is a "majority-minority" state with Latinos outnumbering whites.  Issues of race, class, and gender make it all the more important that student voice is included in planning the new Regional Consortia.  Students reflect the reality of who California is and is becoming far more than admin or teachers do.

Here's a post by Jose Luis on teacher diversity:

4.  Professor Vasquez Heileg's blog Cloaking Inequality.  Prof JVH was at the University of Texas at Austin but is now on his way to Sacramento where he will be a Full Professor and Director of the Educational Leadership at California State at Sacramento.   It was at the panel on Research and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, that I learned from Prof JVH why there is often muted, mumbled, or absolutely no outcry from academics on what is happening to public education.  Just as we in Adult Education fear reprisal or job loss for speaking up about what is happening in Adult Ed, so do the folks in higher ed.  I don't know why I thought it would be any different.  We're talking about human beings here.  Yes, there are "rules."  Yes, there is free speech, tenure, and an agreed on value for the "truth."  But what actually happens is often a different story. 

You can read the blog post that was the basis for his remarks at the NPE panel here:

Prof JVH's wisdom did something else for me:  It made me hopeful.  If Prof JVH can be truthful about what is happening in Public Education, so can other academics.  Maybe academics focused on Adult Education.  It would be hugely helpful if they did so.

In the meantime, I can be truthful.

Like those silent academics, I fear rebuff and reprisal.

I also know if I'm not willing not to speak...  if I'm not willing to take a risk and share what I know and see... If I'm not willing to work as hard as I ask my students to work... If I'm not willing to risk rejection, failure, and fear...

not only do I not have the right to ask my students to take such risks...

I don't have the right to expect anything to change for the better - for Adult Ed, for Public Ed, for me.

Things really are at a crisis point in Public Education - especially in Adult Education. 

That doesn't mean everything will end badly.

Crisis, as we all know, is opportunity.

But it does mean that if I want a good outcome, I need to make an effort for one.

I need to think toward it, risk toward it, work toward it.

Change includes me.

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