Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dispatches from the Front

Russ on Reading goes to the Network for Public Education Conference in Austin, Texas

I am feeling so fortunate to be here in Austin with so many passionate advocates for public education. There is literally a public education hero around every corner. Today I met superstar superintendent John Kuhn, author of Test and Punish, which I reviewed here. In one session I sat next to Karen Lewis, charasmatic president of the Chicago Teachers Union. In another session I got to meet and talk for a few moments with long time child and school advocate Deborah Meier. I had a morning conversation with blogger and teacher Anthony Cody who writes the Living in Dialogue blog for Education Week. I traded tweets with the wonderfully witty blogger Edushyster.

I haven't been among a gathering of this many passionate progressives since I marched in the Moratorium Against Vietnam in 1969. 

The best quote of the day came from John Kuhn in his fiery keynote address: "Our kids education shouldn't be a sandbox for rich people." 

Kuhn's speech was full of such trenchant fare including, "The purpose of education isn't for children to become college and career ready, but life ready and capable of self-government." And "Anything that weakens public education weakens the nation."

Other sessions focused on using social media to get the message out (I was placed in the remedial tweeting group), how best to frame the message so people will listen, and a session where several successful bloggers shared the various pathways to success. In this session, I was especially impressed with the thoughtful and heartfelt presentation of New Jersey's own Darci Cimarusti, who blogs under the nom de plume Mother Crusader. Self described as "just a mom", Darci put a lie to those words as she brought tears to the eyes of many with the heroic story of how she drove education privatizers out of her own town and how she is making life miserable for charter school wannabes throughout the state.

A shout out also to Jonathan Pelto of the blog, Wait, What?, who uses his considerable experience in the political arena to hound public education enemies in Connecticut through campaign finance investigations and Freedom of Information Act requests. He was articulate and inspiring.

In my own session I facilitated the presentations of bloggers Lee Barrios (geauxteacher), Bob Sikes (Scathing Purple Musings) and Katie Lapham (TeachersLetters2BllGates and Critical Classrooms). Each is doing heroic work in their own states beating back parent trigger laws and defending the rights of children. I concluded the session with my satire The House that Gates Built and with the story of my growing disenchantment with the Common Core. The session seemed to be well received.

Tomorrow: Diane Ravitch