Alternatives and Activism: Reclaiming the Conversation on Education

This weekend I will join educational colleagues, professionals, parents, students and friends at Barnard College in New York City to “take back” the Conversation on Education.  Does it strike me that this is close to the name of my blog?  Why yes, and while it initially inspired me to make this trip, it was more about the idea that “we” can actually DO something about what is happening in the corporate takeover of our public school systems.  This is the blurb that made me sign-up.

“If you want to move beyond the focus on test scores, performance outcomes, standardization, and data aggregation, if you are tired of seeing your students deprived of real educational opportunities, if you worry teaching is being reduced to test prep and educators are losing their autonomy and academic freedom, and if you believe all our children should have access to a curriculum and extra-curriculum that are far more engaging that stripped down cram courses or subsistence level job training, then this is the conference for you.”


And if that didn’t convince me then this panel of experts certainly did!!

“Hear speakers such as Susan Ohanian, Barbara Bowen, Carol Burris, Zakiyah Ansari, Juan Gonzalez, Barbara Madeloni, Ceresta Smith, Brian Jones, Nikhil Goyal, Ann Cook, and Shino Tanikawa and join with your colleagues to mobilize resistance.”

But of course the real kicker is that last line, “join with your colleagues to mobilize resistance.”  What a great line!  At first I recall being in college and while taking one of my initial  courses in education we were assigned the task of doing something we had never done before.  The goal was to get out of our comfort zones and to reflect on that experience.  I chose to go to a local anti-nuclear demonstration.   I did not have to do much to dress the part as anyone who knew me in High School or college knows that I came by the “crunchy” quite naturally.  What I remember the most about this rally was the collective energy and power that I felt there.  It was exhilarating, amazing and empowering.  It was a place where I began to develop and strengthen my voice.

Flash forward, too many years to count, and I find myself at dinner in Ohio with my daughter and 6 of her college friends at a round table where the discussion centered on the increase in tuition for students going abroad, a policy that was delivered to students at an informational meeting.  They were outraged at the way it was handled and so I asked them, “What can you do about this?”   Their collective reply was “nothing”.

They felt they did not have a voice in the policy at Kenyon College even though they entered 2 years prior with a very real sense of what the cost would be for the 4 years.  I talked to them about a Grandfather Clause and what they might be able to do.  This tuition increase was a major hit to most of these kids and yet the overwhelming consensus what that they did not feel empowered, they did not believe they had any voice; they did not believe that anything they might do would matter.

And so, in my not so subtle manner I started asking questions and suggesting ways to let their voices be heard.  By the end of the meal they were fired up and had grand plans to set up a table during parents weekend to bring attention to this issue, as parents were never formally informed and would not even know until the tuition bill arrived in the mail.  And while they had visions of posters and signs and standing up for their rights…none of this actually ever happened.  Why?  Because ultimately they did not believe it would matter.

Isn’t college the perfect place to get  involved in make change?  Have we lost this generation to the cow towing and conformity that they have had a steady diet of?   Or have they just not yet discovered the power of their voices?  Or, are they right?

Looking again at that last line…I get a different feel.  We will gather to “mobilize resistance” and it hits me, these are wartime words.  These are the words of troops and lieutenants.  And I wonder…have we really come that far?  Is this an all out war?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  I do know that I have such passionate discourse about what is happening and that while blogging about it has helped me to research further and write down my thoughts I realize it is not enough.

I want to join the collective voice of others at the rally.  I want to begin the process of change with like-minded people who are not going to just sit at the table and watch this happen.  I want to join with the forces that believe we CAN and WILL do something.   I want to show this younger generation that there is power in numbers and activism and alternatives to just accepting whatever comes down the proverbial pipeline.  I want to model that they too can have their voices be heard.

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Photo Credit:

So…here I go…off to the Big Apple.  Perhaps I will dig out one of my old Indian skirts, find a complimentary embroidered shirt and sandals for the occasion….and had I thought of it earlier I could have even gotten a perm, “Wonder Tomasen…activate!”

For more information on this conference check out the blog  It will also be live streamed.

6 thoughts on “Alternatives and Activism: Reclaiming the Conversation on Education

  1. I’m so excited, Tomasen, that I’ll be able to meet you on Sunday when I can’t wait to hear how Barnard goes. The stories about the NYS tests have been so dispiriting–or as one teacher I know said she felt she had broken her professional vow to do no harm in a classroom. And while I’ve felt demoralized as well, this post made me remember that spark of activism I felt as a teenager in the 70’s when we did believe that change was possible and that we could enact it. If nothing else, it may be critical for the next generation to see us old folks stand up and demand to be heard.

    • Vicki,
      It was SO great to meet you, finally, in person!! Yes, I absolutely left with a sense of hope, but also with a great deal more questions than I came with. I had not idea the extent to which Pearson was taking over the country…and never knew that the college level and the TPA even existed. My eyes have been opened and now I am trying to figure out what to do with it!! Can’t even seem to write anything cohesive about it because there was SO much to take in.
      Lovely brunch..and great conversation!
      Thank God for you and the growing on-line community that keeps me going!!

  2. Good luck on your journey of discovery!
    A brief comment from my experience in Canada. For some time now–at least 2o+ years–Canada has had several versions of something like the common core. For example, since around 2000 we have had a pan-Canadian framework for science education and Math education has always had some degree of rationalization. I could go on at length–believe me–about the pros and cons of this but, for now, I can also be brief:
    Pro: a common framework means that educators across the country can share practical ideas on all aspects of teaching and learning. In addition, publishers have the opportunity to do better work as they have larger markets.
    Con: there’s a tendency to go too far with this, to ‘lock down’ every aspect of what happens in the classroom. Not only is this stupid and disrespectful of the wealth of talent that exists within our teaching population but it is also counter-productive. With a focus on ‘teaching for the test’ there’s less attention given to the things that really matter.

    • Maurice,
      Thank you for this perspective and while I would love to think that the pros outweigh the cons I am seeing the con that you state above becoming the underlying goal and objective for the Common Core. Every day I hear another story of teachers being locked in. THAT is my greatest fear of all…no sense of teaching to the needs of the students.
      Where are you now in terms of a framework?
      Sharing ideas would be wonderful, but this seems to be much more about NOT sharing the wealth and a few getting rich at the expense of the poor.
      Thanks so much for all of your responses and for reading!

  3. This article is what I’m all about. Fresh out of college (kind of?) and ready to change the world of education! I’m ready to be the best teacher I can be, to laugh in the face of oppressive tests, and to lead students to a victorious and fruitful existence!
    Yet, here I am. On my computer, looking like a lot of those students I will be teaching in only a couple short months, not doing much. I have a serious fear of teaching. One that I honestly think is well founded. As much as I would like to think that in my first year of teaching I would throw the rules to the wind and bring my students on such a successful academic adventure that other teachers will follow me… I think I know that fear of losing my job will prevent a lot of that war time glory I’m imagining. I, like Emma and her friends, have felt passionate about things, and not done a single thing to change. I remember one time I signed a petition, I don’t even remember for what, and I was actually frightened when I received a response from the state representative. I didn’t want him to think I was opposed to him or questioning his abilities. I thought that I would be safe behind the face of anonymity. Of course I want change, of course I want to be an excellent teacher, but to what end? What price will I be willing to pay? I guess I’ll have to find out when I get there!

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