Monday, August 4, 2014

Sabrina Stevens: Cornerstones of Democracy (notes)

I'm a speaker tonight at the MTA Summer Institute, which means as a bonus I get to hear Sabrina Stevens, who is their keynote (lucky me!). Posting as we go..
Public education as cornerstone of democracy

Send everyone to a public school
but when are we to practice democratic habits? or learn how to be a democracy
"when I have a class of fourth or fifth graders that can't read, the thing that they don't need more of is tests that tell me that they can't read"
"but that wasn't going to happen"
"every six weeks they were changing things...because the thing that kids in poverty needs most" is that
"how to do everything completely wrong...or how major long-term problesm could never be solved in six minutes"
"they bring in the fancy consultant (because that's what we needed, right? Not a full time school nurse...not a para-professional...)"
"I have my script in hand...because that's exactly why I spent $160,000 on a Swathmore I could read from a script"
teaching kids to read in six minutes
Because (she quotes) "we want to make sure the kids can own their data"
"when there's no oversight and there's all incentive in the world...who wants to feel like they're the red emergency kid...when there's no oversight, they're going to do just what the DC principals did under Michelle Rhee: cheat!"
"praying that if this is the day that somebody gets hurt, that this is also the day that we have a nurse"
"how much did they improve? Not much"
new kid...he'd sort of lost his first day could watch him...this is a very bizarre thing to do"
six minutes a day, is thirty minutes a week..."I don't even have six minutes a day to waste"
"one after the other...the new thing in the box..."
how did we get there? There was no democracy in this school.
Older teacher, "you'd seen the fads come and go"
"in this school district, the people who really knew what was going on had very consciencely been pushed out...we had all of these business leaders in charge"
"these programs had all of these lobbyists in place"
"if you train teachers, and they do their job, there's no chance to make money on that"
and if you have a completely undemocratic system, you don't want to be THAT person, because you have a target on your back
"...and this is how I learned how to be a good union member"
when you have the wrong people in the wrong positions for the wrong reasons, that's how you get there
"Democracy is not something that we have; it's something that we do"
"We need to make sure that everyone is involved, with the right people are playing the right roles"
"Democracy is not about getting to sit at the cool kids table...I don't want to sit at Arne Duncan's table"
"if you exclude some can't make the best decisions" because you don't have all the information
"if you systematically push out the people who know the most to bring in the people who know the least"...that's the result that you get
"I was always the one who raised her hand and said 'why don't we...'"
but if you're going to be the person who's going out on that tricky limb, you need everyone else holding that limb up
Students need to see people make decisions together...and if the decisions don't work, get together and make different ones
when people are doing the stuff begrudgingly rather than what they think they should see that
Life isn't fair..."well, whose fault is that?"
"what happens right now hasn't always been this way; someone made a decision to make it that way; we have to do something different"
"there's always going to be a vested interest in someone telling you to sit down and shut up...that works for somebody, but it doesn't work for a functioning democracy"
"that's why we have organizations like this" to stand up
"otherwise it's just you against your boss and that doesn't work"
"if we teach civics by just talking at people, how are they supposed to learn to be an engaged citizen?"
"students have to be involved in the classroom"
democracy's not easy, it takes a lot of time; you have to listen to people
"it's not just teachers who make a school"
How decisions are made in the rest of the school: when the nurse is the first one to go...where is health?
"important to having functioning democracy in the rest of society"
"nobody wins a race to the bottom"
"Let's do this!"
(in response to a question) political organizing "teachers are the most trusted voices in educational issues...when you go talk to your neighbor on an upcoming election, people listen"
and many hands make light work
(in response to a question with concerns about progressive agenda (?)) "it does all start to sound like noise...important to listen closely on what each side is standing for...they're all saying 'do things our way' We're saying 'we should get to decide, not you'"
"they're saying 'you don't get to have a say' and they're taking that away"
"We need those difference, and we need to keep them alive"
"they're saying 'everything should be the same, you don't like it, tough, you're fired'"
(in response to a question) "When I say 'them' and 'us' I mean a very little 'them' and a very big 'us'"
"it's become far less informative to see those labels [Democrat and Republican], because by and large it means that you can spend a lot of money on politics"
"Everybody's idea should have to compete in the public square" not just those who can pay to get their ideas out
"we have a right to be part of this, and you don't have the right to tell us we can't"
(comment that some have highjacked the word 'reform')
(question: how do we get beyond the group of 'no') "there are those whose job it is to create a narrative...very big proponent of not giving away meaning"
"there's nothing rigorous about a multiple choice test"
"very much with you about not ceding those words to them"
"important to call out when people are lying...let's take time to see what's really happening"
"who makes the decision...that's what makes democracy important...we wouldn't have this situation if everyone was invovled"

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