Sunday, February 15, 2015

Perspective: Down by the Riverside, Repairing My Wheels

(This is a Perspective Piece.  In this case, mine... my personal perspective on current affairs.)

Monterey Coast 2009
This weekend, I've been thinking back on another Presidents Day Valentine's Day Combo Platter Weekend.

What's that on the horizon?
Way back in 2009.

I remember it like it was yesterday, not just because I had a great time in Monterey with my daughter and my folks...  but because I drove down there right after my boss called us together to tell us that in order to deal with the economic recession and keep K-12 schools going, Governor Schwartzenegger was "flexing" Adult Ed money.


The flexibility provided by the budget package is unprecedented. Local educational agencies (LEAs) will be able to redirect funding from 40 programs to “any educational purpose.” They will also be able to use restricted account balances from 2007–08 for any educational purpose.  Read more here.

I remember driving out to the motel to meet my parents.  Distracted by this news, I had spaced out. Now I found myself lost, in a marsh.  My daughter was asleep in the back seat.  Hmmm, I thought, this flex feels like bad news.  Real, real bad news.  Serious like cancer bad news.  Also, where the heck am I?

But when to my surprise, I accidentally found the motel, and greeted my parents and settled in, when I opened up my lap top and emailed my co-workers from the motel room, many didn't seem as upset as was.  It will all be okay, many said.  Things will be fine.  Really?, I thought, Am I crazy?  I don't feel like it will  I feel like we are in seriously deep, stinky and steep, deep, deep doo-doo - up to our eyeballs.

Hit the link to read more.

Me and my teacher mom
My grandma, a few years
before she became a widowed
schoolteacher in a 1-room
schoolhouse in the Ozarks
But I didn't understand much about this stuff.  Budget.  Policy.  How things work up in Sac.  That was all stuff I ignored as I focused on my teaching, my family, my life - and yes, of course, coffee, creativity, and chocolate - not necessarily in that order.   I'm a third generation public educator and as I've shared here before, I grew up hearing endless hours of dinner table conversation about idiotic curriculum changes, foolish school boards, poor choices made by Sac or the public, Prop 13 and how that would devastate Public Ed, the Lottery and how that wasn't the answer, the shortsightedness of almost everybody, and a lot of other stuff that made me run far, far away from the thought of ever becoming a teacher, myself, let alone want to understand policy or take it on as a grassroots advocate.  Mental laziness has my picture next to it in the dictionary.

But... I was concerned.  And I was in that motel with my folks - two former educators.  And they agreed with me that things sounded worrisome.  So at the end of the long weekend, when I got back to work, I continued to ask folks...  Were they worried?  Did they, like I did, feel we were in neck deep in trouble? 

Some folks did and some folks didn't.  As someone who is very good at denial, I know how good it can feel.  Sometimes being neck deep in warm doo-doo feels better than a Calistoga mud bath. 

SMAS students rally to save our school
and all the other schools across the state
We are NorCal
Rain doesn't stop us!

But... doo-doo it was and some folks saw it for that and rallied us to action.   A little more than a year after that Presidents Day weekend in 2009, we took part in a "Mass Mobilization to Defend Public Education."

Adult Schools are part of Public Ed!
In March, Bruce Neuberger, Katherine Leiban, and David Doneff and SMAS students went to Sacramento to protest the cuts and stand up for Public Ed and Adult Ed.  From the beginning, Bruce made the connection that our situation was a part of a larger situation and we should be standing up for each other.

And in May (2010), we had our first "Red Letter Day," sending letters to the Governor and the Legislators about the value of Adult Education and K12 Adult Schools.

Around the state, other Adult Schools mobilized, too.  They held rallies, wrote letters, and started groups and blogs.  In some places, they had some success.  Los Angeles was hugely mobilized and managed to save a larger portion of their programs. But Oakland mobilized, too - and did not

Why did some schools close and some stay open? Good questions.  Important questions.  I've tried to address some of them here in this blog. 

And why did Adult Ed and K12 Adult Schools get far less less press and far less attention than other branches of public ed?  Why were we made the blood donor for K12 Schools?   Adult Ed is what supports and empowers so many parents of K12 students.  A child's success is linked, more than any other factor, to mother's education level.  But we were cut - far worse and far more severely and with far less concern - than any other branch of public ed.

At the same time all branches of public ed were cut - and caught up in a larger movement to "re-form" public education.  Privatization also made headway in all branches of public education - including Adult Education.  And CCSF, the only provider of Adult Education in the large city of San Francisco, was under attack on multiple levels, for multiple reasons, some of which connects to the fact it is a large provider of non-credit Adult Education.

It took us a while to connect the dots and to connect with each other.  For a while, many of us worked in relative isolation, not realizing we could reach out and connect with each other.  I wish I and others at my school had connected with COSAS and United Adult Students and found the Save Your Adult School blog sooner than we did.  At one point, I tried to calling many of the Adult Schools listed on the California Adult Schools site but I didn't make any real connections. I honestly think most people I was a nut for calling them. 

The Grand Canyon.
Life is a process.
Many of us were and/or are part of organizations - the two big teachers organizations, CFT and CTA, and/or the hybrid UTLA, as well as CCAE, the California Council for Adult Education.  Some of used our voices within those organizations to call for action, write policy papers, and create alliances.  But many of us in general membership were not using these organizations to full effect.  And perhaps the leadership of these organizations did not realize the wisdom in asking for our full participation.  This is why the Shock Doctrine works.  Create or encounter a crisis.  Then push for a specific agenda as folks run around and try to cope - often badly.  For whatever reason, it took us a while to find ourselves - our own power, and each other.  But... we did... we, the "regular folks, " teachers and students, working to save our individual schools and the broader system of K12 Adult Schools and Adult Education across the state, found each other - and our strengths as individuals and a community. 

It also took some of  us "regular folks" time to find our way and our voice within the organizations we belong and pay dues to.  To varying degrees of success, we did that, too.

In the meantime, a huge number of our schools weren't saved.  The numbers reported vary but anywhere from 70 to 100 schools closed.  And all of them shrank in size and scope.

That's a lot of communities deprived of Adult Education.  A lot of jobs lost.  A lot of reverberations.

I started this blog in March of 2012.  For some time, I had felt that someone "should" start a blog or that someone should give me "permission" to start a blog.  Finally, I had one of those V-8 moments in which I realized that if I really thought someone should do this, I should and could do it.  So I did. 
Bruce Neuberger at the 2014
Grassroots Meeting
Karen Arthur, myself, Kristen Pursley

Eventually, I and others at my school connected with others around the state, including Karen Arthur who started the Alliance for California Adult Schools, Kristen Pursley who started the Save Your Adult School blog and is a founding member of COSAS, Juan Noguera and John Mears and Sean Abajian, leaders in the movement to save Adult Ed and support United Adult Students in Los Angeles, and Irma Beserra Nunez, leader of the California Coalition to Save Older Adult Education, as well as others doing brave and wonderful work around the state.  Led by John Mears, many of us came together to work together on the No Lawmaker Left Behind Campaign.  In this and other activities with others around the state, teachers, students, admin, and community members, it was inspiring and empowering to see what others were doing, learn from them, and work with them on both local and broader levels.

Thanks to Bruce Neuberger, I also found out about Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education and began to understand the larger puzzle of which Adult Ed's the missing piece.

Lisa Dolehide with
SMAS Student Leaders
Valentine's Day 2014
We <3 Adult Education
Thanks to Lisa Dolehide, I saw what students can accomplish through an ESL Student Council and I watched student leadership at our school blossom into a powerful voice for action and empowerment.

And 5 Red Letter Days, at least 4 petitions, 1 press conference, numerous Facebook pages, and hundreds of Red Tuesdays later, we can say, that yes, together, we the people, in all our various forms and factions, have "saved" Adult Education.
Students asking for a seat at the table for Adult Education.
"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."

We put hours and hours and hours of heart and mind and muscle and spirit and made and won the case that Adult Education matters.  This is big.  This is real.  This is beautiful.

Big Red Tuesday in Los Angelse

Is it the same Adult Education that was flexed 6 years ago?  No.  It is not.  It is very different.  More on that in a minute.  But it continues.  Adult Ed abides!

The now famous "Victory Pic."
Photo credit:  Tom Jung

In the meantime, personally... I find myself much like this old wagon wheel...  worn out... not making much progress...  unable to get anywhere... dare I say...stuck?  ;-)

Since that weekend in Monterey, I have put in thousands and thousands of hours into this effort to "save" Adult Education and make the case that Adult Education and

Public Education and indeed... the public!... matters.

Now I am tired.  Real tired.

All the things that keep me going feel in disrepair.

(Hmmm... disrepair... despair... connection?)

I see people - as individuals and in groups - able to function when they are in balance. 

A funny thing about wheels... for cars, we talk about balance.  "Got to get my wheels balanced."  For bikes, we talk about true.  "My wheel's not true.  I got to get my wheels trued."

What keeps a wheel in true, in balance?

All things have to be equal.  Each spoke has to be of equal length and strength.

If a spoke breaks, you can get by for a while, but eventually, it will unbalance the whole wheel and the whole thing will fall apart and then, blam!  You are stuck. Without wheels.  Going nowhere.

What are my spokes?

I think they are same as for everyone - both individually and in community. 

Love, money, work, play, friends, family, etc.

Pull out one of them and I can get by for a while...

but not forever.

What happened in the last few years for me is what I think is going to happen in California, and indeed our nation, in the future.  Adult Ed is just a small TJ's sample portion of our cultural idea of what creates and maintains health and success.

I was focused - very, very focused - on work.  Especially in the last two or three years, I often spent anywhere from 20 to 50 hours on a weekly basis on what I call "AE work."  That could be anything from writing a blog post to reading articles about Public Ed reform to calling legislators to attending a meeting to developing relationships with others around the state.  Whatever - it was all focused on saving, stabilizing, and rebuilding Adult Education.

That's okay.  I'm okay that I spent my time that way.  It was deeply meaningful, rewarding, and growthful, and in many ways and in many areas, I feel my effort contributed to good outcomes.  

Children grow
away from us
So do our elders
But... life is not just about work.  Life is also about connection, love, Spirit (capital "S," you define what that means to you), friendship, children, sustainability, gardening, other problems example Climate Change, music, dancing, learning, inventing, growth of all kinds, spending time with kids before they're grown, old folks before they die, and everyone in between because you never know how long you have, anyway.

As Nancy Folbre explains in her book, "The Invisible Heart, Economics and Family Values," there isn't enough money in the in the world to pay for all the caregiving that we, as humans need in this world.  From when we first enter naked, screaming and hungry for milk, love, and a diaper change (hey, I was a nanny for years, paid and unpaid, you got to know I know this one!), to when we need love and counsel and a car to practice driving on as teens to when we need love and mentoring as young adults to when we need someone to help us out when
People we love change

So do empires
 Me and the world's best baby sister enjoying Sunday
coffee and cake with Bepe and Family.
Baby Sister is now a Mama, herself.
Nothing tells time
like loving a child.
we're sick or our kids are sick or our spirits are sick as adults to when we need love and water and a diaper change as old people, we need care.  A lot of it.  And even when we have the money to pay for it, we all know in our hearts, that paid love is never the same as free.  If it was, we'd never mess with marriage.  But we do.  Because we know that love matters. A lot.

My concern about the new form of Adult Education is that it's less of a wheel and more of a rectangle.  It's got about 4 spokes. Okay, 5 if you count Disabled Adults, but you know what I mean.  It's very CCR - College and Career Readiness - focused. 

Also getting old
Because, I guess, that's how ol' Governor Brown, who is getting on in years and is very frugal but has always had plenty of money, sees it.  And, notably, Governor Brown is not a parent.  Nor, do I think, did he have to worry about the care of his own aging parents.  They had plenty of money not to mention daughters.  ("A son is a son till he takes a wife but a daughter's a daughter for all of your life.")

Governor Brown and many others think CCR is the answer.

I think it's the answer, too - if you add in all the other spokes like Parent Ed and Older Adults and Community Education.

But... so far..  I don't hear that loud and clear.  I hear it spoken by many women privately.  And a few women publically.  And a few men, too.  And CFT has said it.  But mostly, it doesn't seem like the general public is ready to hear or ponder or take on or deliver or act on that truth.

This woman teaches me things
and keeps me sane.
She is living proof and testament
that Community is Immunity.
Listening to me talk
about Adult Education
has probably taxed her
almost as much as
doing the work did me.
And that's how it goes sometimes.  Sometimes people are not ready to take something on. 

That doesn't make what they won't or can't face untrue. 

Calling out slavery in 1776 did not get a lot of response.  Mostly, it got ignored.  We got a Constitution that included the Three Fifths Compromise.  Did reaching the agreement that a slave is a little more than half human mean that slavery was okay and slaves are less than fully human, undeserving of voice and representation?  No, of course not.  It just means that many people were not ready to deal with something and that something got pushed down the road where it kept breaking down and blowing up and it's breaking down and blowing up to this day.

Several Wars in the Middle East ago....
The same can be said about Climate Change and Fossil Fuels.  Many laughed when Carter said to turn down your thermostat and put on a sweater, when he put solar panels on the roof of the White House and said we needed to find alternative ways to get energy.  Well, I think we can all say... we're not laughing now.

I feel our failure to reckon with the truth that Community is Immunity is in the same vein.

College and Career Readiness are just part of what we need to keep our wheels true and in balance.  They are just part of what we need to move forward as a people.  We also need a way to keep us strong as individuals, as families, as communities, as a people.  Parent Education and Older Adults and Community Education, including Financial Literacy, are part of how we can do that.

(I'm gonna say it again... why we went from a global financial collapse to eliminating Financial Literacy as a state-funded part of Adult Education boggles my mind.  I mean... Who does that benefit?!)

I've written a lot of posts on this blog.  I've also thought of many more I never actually wrote.  One of them was to be titled, "The River Has Two Banks."  It was to be about how we need both a financial bank and a social bank.

The CCR side - College and Career Readiness (and Financial Literacy!) is the financial bank.  We need it strong!  We need it stable!  The Parent Ed and Older Adults and Community Ed is the social side.  We need that side strong and stable, too!

That particular post was going to be an homage to my stepmom, who epitomizes a river with two such strong banks.  But like so many posts, it never got written.  I was too tired.  Or too busy.  Or too something.

Posts waiting their turn to roll in

I have yet more posts lined up in my mind - about Property and Public Education, about Leaving the Back Door Open, about Community is Immunity.

But... because I have neglected my own financial and social banks, I am too over-spent and over-drawn and worn out to write them.

I need to stop.  At least for a while.  And sit down by the riverside and repair my wheels.

I know.  I'm mixing my metaphors.  Banks.  Wheels.  Pick one, will ya! 

Whatever you call it, I need to repair it. 

Kitty who recently passed on
Surviving kitty
I need to work in my garden.  I need to love up my kid.  I need to spend time with my family and my friends and ooo-whee, I need to get back to yoga before my sciatica gets back to me. I need to spend time with my surviving cat and maybe get her a friend.  I need to learn new skills for my job and give my students the attention they need and deserve. 

In my garden
Staff of life
This is not an official resignation.  In truth, I am planning on attending the CCAE Bay Section Conference.  I hope to attend the NPE Conference in April in Chicago , as well.  I am working on a Grand Timeline of Events in the Recent History of Adult Education.  And I will continue to post updates about events here on AEM, as well as news about any crises, such as the recent effort to uproot Berkeley Adult School. 

But I'm not posting as much and I'm definitely, consciously and with intent, pulling back so I can bring some truth and balance to my life.

Stepping back
Fast or slow, change happens

This is a long game, this life.  None of us ever reaches the mountaintop and none of us plays alone.  All of us are on the board every day.  All of us have the opportunity to learn, grow, screw up, help each other, succeed and fail - every day and in pretty much every way.  It's not on any of one of us to do everything.  It's not possible for any one of us to do everything. 

We are part of something bigger.  We move forward - as individuals and as a people - when we remember that... each of us doing our part... each of us remembering we are wheels within wheels ... and it's our job... it's our power... it's our joy... to keep our part of them true.

We will get there.

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