I watched with great interest this afternoon as Brian Williams moderated a teacher town hall discussion on MSNBC, a special presentation of Education Nation. With reform dialogue reaching a fever pitch lately, from Marc Zuckerberg’s donation to Newark to Michelle Rhee’s seeming impending ouster from Washington, D.C., to of course, the release of the movie Waiting for Superman, education is pretty much on the forefront of American consciousnesses like it probably never has been.
The program, which hosted 200 teachers in the audience and a rotating panel of educators from across the country, started off as a shill show, and no real dialogue commenced until about 10 or 15 minutes in.
The discussion was limited to presentations of arguments about tenure, charters, parental involvement, poverty, and other hot-button education issues. But as so many in my PLN pointed out: no one seemed willing to offer any solutions.
Perhaps the most heartening development to me about the two hour forum was the fact that we teachers finally had a public, individual voice that wasn’t coming from the union. At the very least, we may have been shown to be human beings, rather than insensitive machines collecting a paycheck and taking it to the bank every two weeks. As many in the forum pointed out, one of our major concerns as professionals is the fact that while education reform has become a topic that everyone from Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey feels they deserve a say in, it remains a topic where the most important voices – teachers’ – are withheld from the table. Today was a start, and if nothing else, we can hope our views have been, to a certain extent, been introduced to the public in a constructive way.
But there’s something that has been gnawing at me since the conclusion of the show. Never mind the failure of MSNBC to identify their panelists as charter school employees or Williams’ reticence at guiding serious discussion about the points being raised by the audience.
If our voices are to be heard, shouldn’t the people who vilify us like their life depends on it be there to rebut? Where was Arne Duncan? Joel Klein? Mike Bloomberg? Geoff Canada? Eva Moskowitz? Gates? Zuckerberg? Winfrey? One woman questioned the absence of Diane Ravitch, as she is a vocal opponent of current reform movements. I’d argue it was more important for teachers to articulate their points for themselves, and that her attendance was far less vital than those who operate their vocal bullying at every turn.
Teachers have voices, opinions, and issues worth fighting for, and it’s exciting to know our ideals may finally galvanize in a productive way. However, I wonder: if a teacher scrapes his nails across the board, and nobody’s in the classroom to hear it, do they make a sound?