Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why am I doing this?

A few observations about my efforts of the past weeks to get ahead on the old Internets, increase my Twitter presence, enter into more networking on Facebook and increase the readership of this blog. Hard to say why I entered into this endeavor in the first place; I can always use the excuse that I am isolated as an education agitator here in Maine and I need to establish for myself a community who believes in the things I do, and reach out to those here in Maine who I might cultivate as allies.  But in reality, I think I just really want to crack the code of getting those 5-figure weekly hit counts on Minds of Kids.

Lisa Nielson of the Innovative Educator gave me a few key words of advice a few weeks ago. Example: focus on school boards. That helped me narrow in. Add parents to that mix. Those lay people who want to change education are a bit harder to find than teachers and school administrators with the same goals. So I used Twitter, worked it hard, made it scream for mercy. Why Twitter? I can answer that easily. Sometimes Diane Ravitch retweets my posts. Someday Dan Pink will respond to something I direct his way. Who doesn't like to hobnob with the greats? Twitter really is a great equalizer. All things seem possible.

About three weeks ago I had 100 followers on Twitter. Now I have 400. It's been a very  painstaking process, going through the follower lists of folks who are in my target audience, either by virtue of being parents, being involved in education, or living in Maine.

I belong to several Facebook groups dedicated to education, and even started one of my own, the Radical School Board Member, which has had a flurry of activity and seems a good starting point among those of us who sit at the table. There are other groups for those interested in real educational innovation. I post and respond and engage; it's possibly the one place where people are as obsessed about these issues as I am.

I like a good Internet argument, a good snowballing controversy and I've had the pleasure of witnessing and even participating in a few of those. Nobody said it shouldn't be fun.

But I still feel like I have to work for every hit I get on Minds of Kids.

I haven't cracked it yet. I haven't locked into the secret that, apparently, everyone else in the world is trying to figure out also. My goal is to accelerate the blog posts (not easy for me; I'm not prolific) and continue expanding my Twitter community.

My purpose is to try and be part of the mess of a situation we call public education in America. I want to help define what kids need most; to dispense with some of the reluctance to allow students' passions and deepest interests and strengths to be central to their education. To help organize all those who believe that high-stakes testing stands directly in the way of a passion-driven education, and has brought public education to its knees. I want to stand firm for changing the system itself, instead of renting education out to whatever highest bidder comes along who wants to profit from it. Change the mother ship. Don't settle for anything else.

There are enemies, and yes, I have no qualms about using that word. (In the words of a new friend who is a long-term education activist, "They are killing us. It's right to get angry.") There are people and groups that need to be discredited and defeated. The problem is that they have a lot more money than we do, and right now, control over the narrative of education change.

I know that I am an absolute newcomer to this world, a lay person in a sea of professionals. But I can help change the narrative. I can try to articulate issues in my own way. I learn as I go; my views evolve, my position alters as I gain new information, new insights, hear of a story that shines new light on the controversy.

As I do this, I work for change in my own district, change that might actually (if we act very fast) benefit my own kids.  But what are my kids learning by observing a parent who is passionate about changing what is wrong, working for what's right?

Scratch the surface of what's motivating my own obsession, and there it is. I'm a parent.


  1. You're my hero! My suggestion is to go check out and learn how to be a grassroots organizer. Also, help start a PAA chapter where you are, so parents can organize themselves. Don't sweat the website traffic. Education isn't as mentally stimulating to the public as we'd like.

  2. It's funny -- I've been a political organizer of one stripe or another since I went door-to-door for NOW in the mid-80s. But it's a bit different now, isn't it? Also, being a grassroots organizer in my hometown of NYC in the 80s is so different from being a rural education advocate in 2012 that I might as well have no experience at all.

    I recently saw the Twitter account for NOW-NYC, and had to give them a shout-out, because I helped run the place, oh, 20-some years ago! :)

    As for PAA, I have been considering it for some months, but I'm not sure of my footing as a school board member or how that would play out politically around here, for some complicated local reasons.

    My personal goal is to continue to know what I'm talking about, keep trying to bridge differences, open up a few doors to new ideas.

  3. I don't think it's my imagination; I think the conversation about "reform" is really growing and gaining traction. I don't want to take anything from a certain party's play book, but repeat it enough and it gets to be credible. We have a message. We want to get people to the point where they feel it is okay to talk about whether the Emperor has clothes.

  4. I'm not sure I understand your are you defining "reform?"

  5. My only word of advice is to stay attuned to the fact that the work you do "on the ground" - with real people in your community - is exponentially more important than the life you lead online. Have a marvelous year.

  6. That is advice well-taken. I do have to balance what I do -- there's only so far you can go to defeat the testing culture without reaching outside of our state and agitating in Washington to break NCLB. OTOH, we have to try to limit the damage of HST with our own kids. In a poor district, we tend to argue among ourselves, one program over another, schools v. potholes, and knowing the problem originates outside the county doesn't make them easier to solve. So I try and keep my hand in both home and national issues.

  7. I count myself as one of your recent followers and even though we sometimes disagree I'm happy to have found another voice in Maine education to connect with. It seems those in the Pine Tree State aren't as connected as I'd hope.

  8. Lisa- while standrdized testing is a demon it is no where near as damaging to the potential for educational excellence in Maine (and elsewhere) imho, as inconsistant leadership. You can accomplish NOTHING, in any organization with a constant turnover of administration, principals, school boards,& Supts. Real change, especially in education takes time, and planning and consistant goals. The new Commissioner has good ideas - we need to choose a path and build on it, modifying and course correcting as we go, defining the powers that belong at the state level and in local communities. Stay involved - this is an issue whose time haas come.

  9. Hi Lisa,
    Not much to say right now but I very glad to read that you are reaching out further. Wonderful work. As the Occupy Movement says, "Another World is Possible!"
    David Smith

  10. Kathy, you should read my piece on Steve Bowen. ( Good ideas, yes, but what's under the hood?

    Kathy, Ryan and David, I'm so glad to have Maine readers at all!