I am reluctant to critique the BATs any further, having done so in two posts so far, and stirring up a fair amount of debate. To be fair, my views on this still emerging group should be tentative. Honestly, I hope the best for them, but I will work differently for the shared goal of a humanistic, child-centered and egalitarian educational system. Repeatedly I have been told that my departure from the BAT forum on Facebook is premature, but so be it. I am still around and keeping my eyes open. That being said, I will not come knocking on their door in the future if it seems they’ve changed to my liking. I am not a fair weather activist. But I digress. One of the criticisms thrown at me yesterday in a thread was that I was criticizing without putting forth any viable alternatives. So, some rough thoughts in that regard.
Generally speaking, the BATs approach to organizing makes sense: get people together online, quickly raise numbers, then establish an official website. The next stage, establishing state level forums is probably their best idea, and I hope it works out. Since the group is so widely inclusive, they need to devolve to be effective. Having once helped found an online teacher activist group myself, I know that establishing a platform, or at least clearly defined talking points early on is crucial. The BATs, by allowing such a prolonged free-for-all talking space on Facebook (a limited platform for mass one-on-one engagement), have delayed the establishment of a guiding focus for their group. They then compounded this problem by prematurely launching actions. The phone blitz on the NEA was particularly divisive since many members of the group are either union supporters, or on the fence, and so felt marginalized by this action. But here I am critiquing again!
Whatever approach an online group takes, it needs to be very intentional. Leaders need to set the group’s tone and focus from the very get-go and solicit input from the group members as comprehensively as possible. With dynamically growing groups as large as BAT, this can only be done through voting and quick devolution of the group to regional or state levels. But prior to this development, a general platform must be established and its sticking points ironed out. Again, intentionality on the part of the groups’ facilitators is crucial.
Essentially, BAT suffers from a lack of effective leadership, without which participants’ negative characteristics come to the fore and dominate. This tendency toward negativity isn’t the case with any emergent group, but it certainly is when you bring together people who feel disenfranchised and devalued by forces beyond our control (hence my use of the term wounded birds in yesterday’s post). The very idea of a teacher activist group bespeaks the need for good structure and tight focus.
Assuming such a well-organized online group can be established, what is next? As readers may have gathered, I am a proponent of engaged dialogue. Moving forward, such a group–having successfully devolved from a nationally centered forum to a network of local activists groups–should hold meet-ups to engage in discussions with one another as well as members of their local communities. For teachers, this could mean bringing in parents and talking about standardized testing, its ill effects on their children’s education and the need to opt out. Imagine countless small local discussions nationwide with public school teachers encouraging the parents they serve to opt their kids out of testing? This would bring with it a host of challenges for the teachers involved and would require a strong leadership line from group to local to regional and national levels. It would be great if the unions could support such actions, but most likely they would become opponents as much as the corporate ed reformers. Ultimately it would require a great deal of courage on the part of educators to pull this off, but with structure, focus and committed leadership it could be done.
My proposal here lacks the glamour and anonymity of blitzing Arne Duncan’s office with phone calls. It requires steady, persistent efforts on the part of educators, risking their jobs and professional reputations. It also focuses on face-to-face encounters that can transform the hearts of even adversaries and build a lasting movement. These are just some of my rough thoughts. I will elaborate in whatever comments thread may follow.