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Rudely Challenging The System

Recently our overly-large school district held its Education Summit, an annual Saturday morning event for the leadership to connect with the community. The format was pretty much the same as in past years, starting with an opening talk by the superintendent followed by a panel of graduates discussing how their school experience contributed to their success, and then breakout sessions highlighting specific programs.

New this time around, the moderator started things by suggesting that we in the audience tweet about the session and even providing a hashtag. Of course, I took that invitation and about half way through, received an @ reply from a student in the crowd who said she was “disappointed by [my] rude and uncalled for remarks”.

Ok, that’s very possible. I can sometimes a little caustic in my tweets, not to mention these posts. However, when writing anywhere in the open, I try very hard to criticize ideas and not people, and to the degree possible, suggest room for improvement.

So I scrolled back through my stream to see what I might have said that fit her criticism and, finding nothing I would classify as “rude”, replied: “Challenging the system to do better is not rude and very much called for.”

After that we exchanged a few other tweets and, of course, I didn’t change her mind,1 but I never expect to exert a lot of influence in bursts of 140 characters. Even in longer form writing, the best I can ever hope for is to plant a seed of an idea that may influence someone down the line.

Anyway, I stand by my original statement, that challenging the school district I work for to improve is necessary, even during an event that is specifically designed to generate positive public relations (more money, please!). Maybe especially called for in this setting. And simply doing so is not rude.

Because the superintendent proclaiming to the audience that our district is “top rated”2, and sends something like 88% of students to college, and has very high passing rates on the state tests, and here’s the new “Portrait of a Graduate” poster, and, hey look, we have an app!, all may be accurate, but it doesn’t nearly tell the whole story.

In many ways listing those largely statistical achievements and spotlighting carefully chosen examples of success masks the real problems behind our district. An organization that has, over the past decade, spent far too much time resting on it’s laurels, while working hard to resist the huge societal shifts that should lead to fundamental changes in the way we educate our children.

Come to think about it, maybe we all need to be at least a little rude in pushing for the change needed in our education system.

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2 Comments

  1. Diana King

    Tim, I urge you to keep doing exactly what you have been doing for years: questioning educational orthodoxy in its many guises. Classroom teachers seem to be more and more constricted and less and less able to push the envelope themselves.

  2. Sara Carter (@saracarterok)

    Oh. My.

    “In many ways listing those largely statistical achievements and spotlighting carefully chosen examples of success masks the real problems behind our district.”

    Yes. Just YES! Haven’t ever heard this so well said, articulated.

    In my situation, I’ve become able to predict exactly when a moderator is reaching for one of the old ‘crutches’ so often used to prop up sagging reality.

    By all means, stay ‘rude.’ Even ruder. The truth really does hurt.

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