Monday, January 30, 2017

Beyond Tuesday

It's late Monday night. I've finished firing off today's set of e-mails and vented some general internet outrage (because, you know, a well-turned tweet from a small town English teacher is totally going to shift the American conversation). And I think I'm settled for tomorrow.

Look, sooner or later one of two things is going to happen. Betsy DeVos is going to be confirmed as Secretary of Education, or she's not. One of those is far more likely than the other, but in both cases, we need to be prepared for what comes next.

The far-less-likely possibility is that she will be defeated and rejected, and that will be a good thing, but if it happens, the next thing that will happen is that Herr Trump will nominate someone else, and that person will be terrible. It might seem like an improvement because it may just be garden variety terrible and not burn-down-the-world terrible. But any education nominee out of this administration is going to be terrible. But still-- remember that Eva Moskowitz and She Who Will Not Be Named (former DC chancellor) were both reportedly considered, and both would suck hugely.

So if far-less-likely option occurs, we are going to have one more terrible Secretary of Education. We will have to do some loin girding and battening of hatches, and we will have to get back to the business of teaching in the storm, dancing into the apocalypse.

The far-more-likely possibility is that she will be confirmed. It is possible that some set of GOP senators will blink, but in case you haven't noticed, DC is not exactly awash in bold vertebrate behavior right now.

If DeVos is confirmed, you're going to hear a lot about how this was a big defeat for teachers and Democrats, a big victory for the Trumpsters. "tsk tsk," they'll say. Or maybe "Neener neener." Followed by, "Look at all the money and effort they wasted."

Do not believe it. The people who say that will be wrong.

Speaking up for what is right, speaking up for what you value, speaking up for the institutions that helped make this country great-- those actions are never wasted.

It is brutish, short-term foolishness to believe that effort is only well-spent when you get your way. It is a position of moral and ethical emptiness to assert that the only efforts and expressions that matter are those that end in victory. "If I don't get my way, then all my work was wasted," is the reasoning of a five-year-old.

You stand up and speak for what is right because that's what a functioning moral being does. You stand up for the people and choices and values and country that you value because to not do so is moral cowardice, spiritual and intellectual laziness.

It is, in fact, childish in the extreme to believe that every time you speak your truth, the world must stop and reorganize itself to revolve around it. But if you don't speak your truth, nobody can hear it. If you don't stand for something, nobody can stand up with you.

The whole business is much like teaching itself. Every day in the classroom we make choices about what to say, what to do, how to interact with students. Some of what we do will vanish into the depths of time without leaving a trace on a single brain or heart. Some of what we do will absolutely alter the trajectory of some student. If you have taught for more than a decade, you have had the experience of talking to an old student who shares something you did that was absolutely life-altering for them-- and you have no memory of it at all.

Point is, going forward, you never know which choices will be earth-shattering and which will simply vanish into the dusts of time. So you have to make each choice the best you can, choosing as if each choice is one that will change someone's world. You make the best choices you can because that's how you become the best person you can be. The alternative is to live like some kind of morally stunted troll who tries to say or do whatever will make them feel as if they've won, no matter what that victory costs in integrity and decency. You can win with that approach-- hell, you can apparently become President-- but you will live as a hollow, empty, shitty human being who walked past a million chances to do something right and ignored them all.

So you stand up for what is right because there is value in being the kind of person who stands up for what is right, whether you win the day or not.

No matter what happens next, the effort to oppose DeVos (and all the other acts of resistance that are going on in the cavalcade of giant whalloping wrongness parading out of DC) will not be a waste. It won't be a defeat, either, because as we've been learning anew over the past decade, you never cross the finish line for Important Stuff. The work of defending the promise of public education is a marathon, not a sprint, and there is no finish line.

This has, in fact, been a big surprise to the Trumpkins, who seemed certain that once they won, all their opponents would just shut up and go away and let them blunder on in peace. But no-- we're all still here.

There is no ultimate victory, and there is no final defeat. Not as long as you stand back up.

And we will still be here the days beyond Tuesday. This DeVos business is just a blip in the race; it may tell us what route the marathon will follow next, but it won't end the race, and when they look around, we'll be right there, and you can bet that regardless of who is out in front at the moment, the great galloping pack of us force them to think about how to take their next steps.

And here's one of the most important secrets of all-- standing up for what is right creates its own sort of vigor and strength, while standing up for a lie, for what is wrong, for what is shallow and self-serving is exhausting work. I don't say this lightly-- I have lived my life badly, and it was absolutely draining and toxic and burdensome. Trying to live well for what is right-- that takes years off your life, weight off your shoulders. Trust me on this one. It is our advantage in the long haul.

So grab a breath. Get a cool glass of water. Shake the dust off your shoes.

And most of all, remember that as large as all this seems to loom, the real work still goes on in teh classroom, with the young humans that are our charges, and for day after day after day they will present themselves to us and we will meet their needs to the best of our ability. We will stand up for them, for what they need, for who they are, for who they can become, and as we will stand for them through this lousy Secretary of Education just as we have through the lousy Secretaries of Education who came before them. We will stand up through injustice and inequity and neglect and ugly empty foolishness. We will stand in that classroom, and we will show them how it's done.

Beyond Tuesday there is a whole world of opportunity for us, a whole sprawling world of what can be and could be and should be, and we may not always fight our way through the obstacles in our path, but it's still all there, and the appointment of a bunch of government functionaries doesn't change that. I will step back into my classroom, and I will look at those faces, and I will feel better for having stood up, and then I will move forward on whatever path is laid out for me next.

This is neither the end or the beginning, and there is still a world of work to do out there beyond Tuesday. Stand up. Take heart. Breathe deep. Step forward. Here we go.


  1. Just thank you. This is the wisest thing I've read in a long, long time. And I have some pretty good sources.

  2. In a word, character. Moral character. Thank you, Peter.

  3. Thanks for the inspiration, much needed today.

  4. Thank you, sir. This is wonderful.

  5. Since we now know the results and are stuck with DeVos, thanks for these words that remind us that we didn't waste our breath explaining why she isn't good for that task. I needed that reminder and surely will need it in the days ahead as well.

  6. Trump is not Hitler, Comrade. You degrade yourself to entertain the meme.