As the battle for the heart, soul, and future of US public education has heated up this year, there have been wins for the Resistance this year. Because it's the time of year in which we all Make Lists and Declare Winners, I'm going to go ahead and sort through public education victories this year and declare the greatest.
It's now quaint to remember a time when education was the easy choice for pols who wanted a win. Coming out for better schools was like announcing your support of cute puppies and apple pie, a political stance with only an up side and no possible downside.
No longer. No longer can politicians just say, "Let's make schools better" and not have to explain what they mean and not suffer consequences for those specifics. Sure, the new opposition to Common Core from guys like Bobby Jindal is strictly political, but then, the support was strictly political in the first place. The good news is that politicians must now do some sort of homework instead of just making platitudinous mouth noises about education.
And while the fall elections left reformster politicians largely untouched, the brutal shellacking of incumbent PA governor Tom Corbett is a clear signal that voters will put up with only so much gutting of public education.
I hope Leonie Haimson is having a great New Year's celebration tonight, because this year she was the most visible face of a movement that took down inBloom, the data collecting giant. It would be a mistake to thing our Data Overlords have given up their dreams of hoovering up every speck of data on every sentient being on the planet (it is still fundamental to Pearson's world domination business plan). But their flagship corporate initiative got its ass handed to it in 2014.
This was the year for reformsters to talk about the Conversation. Changing the Conversation. Renewing the Conversation. Improving the Conversation. Reformsters talk about the Conversation uniformly ignored one uncomfortable truth-- the Conversation they were talking about changing was the same one they had refused to have. Common Core was rolled out quickly and in a manner deliberately designed to keep national standards, test, and (let's be honest) curriculum from being derailed by any conversation about how (or even if) these things should be done.
So 2014 was the year that reformsters, mostly, acknowledged that simply rolling over the entire country was no longer working as a strategy. Some, like Peter Cunningham at Education Post, still worked on the theory that the public just needed to be rolled over more artfully, but even that was a backhanded acknowledgement that people who disagree with the reform agenda exist and have voices and can't just be ignored. That means there's a possibility that in 2015 we might actually begin the national conversation we should have had in 2009.
The Biggest Public Education Win of 2014
None of these victories, or the many other victories for public ed this year, were the biggest win. Because the biggest win was also the quietest one. Let me tell you what it was, in case you missed it.
In the midst of a staggering assault on public education, with their integrity, judgment, reputation, and ability under attack by everyone from corporate stooges to the US Secretary of Education, and, in many areas, with their job security under direct assault by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about, while powerful forces worked to dismantle the very institutions and ideals that they have devoted their lives to-- in the middle of all that, millions of teachers went to work and did their jobs.
In environments ranging from openly hostile to merely unsupportive, teachers went into their classrooms and did their best to meet the needs of their students. Teachers helped millions of young human become smarter, wiser, more capable, more confident, and better educated. Millions of teachers went to school, met students where they were, and helped those students move forward, helped them grasp what it meant to be fully human, to be the most that they could be. Teachers helped millions of students learn to read and write and figure and draw and make music and play games and know history and understand science and a list of things so varied and rich that I have no room here for them all.
When so many groups were slandering us and our own political leaders were giving us a giant middle finger, we squared our shoulders and said, "Well, dammit, I've got a job to do, and if even if I've got to go in there and do it with my bare hands in a hailstorm, I'm going to do it." And we did.
Yes, some of us finally ran out of fight this year. There's no shame in that; despite what our detractors say, this is not a job that just anybody can do for a lifetime, particularly not under today's conditions. The people who had to leave the classroom are just our measure of how hard it is to stay these days.
And yet, this year, millions of us stayed and fought and taught and did our best this year. While powerful forces lined up to make us fail, or at least make us look as if we were failing, we went into our classrooms armed with professional skills and knowledge and experience and judgment and hours of outside preparation and work, and we didn't fail. We stood up for our students, stood up for the education, their future, their value as human beings. We didn't fail.
So, if you want the biggest public education win of 2014, there it is. Millions of teachers, caught in a storm not of their own making, under fire, under pressure, under the thumb of people with far more money and power still stood up and did their job. The powers that be tried to make us fail, and we got the job done anyway. Celebrate that.