A Ray of Hope: On Tipping Points and Pushing Back

Anthony Cody taught science in Oakland, CA, for 18 years and now blogs regularly on teaching and education in Education Week. I wanted to share his Aug. 15 post, “This is How a Tipping Point Feels,” for its note of optimism and thoughtful analysis of the opportunities we face as we try to push the education policy pendulum back toward something reasonable and helpful for our children.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, which mentions a recent oped by influential Washington Post writer Dana Milbank, which calls out President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for expanding “the importance of standardized testing to determine how much teachers will be paid, which educators will be fired and which schools will be closed — despite evidence that such practices are harmful. In the process, he’s offended just about all the liberals involved in or advocating for education without gaining much support from conservatives.” Here’s more from Cody:

It is a fascinating, frustrating and exciting time, this tipping point we are approaching. The broader political setting is hugely important. We are two years into an administration that made fantastic promises to an America hungry for change. “We are the people we have been waiting for.” Obama and his electioneers tapped into every hopeful beat of our hearts. We would bring the troops home from Iraq, close Guantanamo, stop the phone tapping, rein in corporate greed, and inspire the world with a more humane foreign policy.

In education, we were told we would enter a new era of “mutual responsibility,” stop spending the year preparing for bubble tests, and stop blaming teachers for all the problems in our schools. We thought we would have a leader smart enough to understand that slogans and profiteers will not be our saviors, and that local leadership at the school and community level is the wellspring of school improvement.

But here we are, approaching the two year mark. At first, we were dismayed, when cruel practices of NCLB were extended. Did they not understand what they were doing? Could they not see this was not consistent with our shared vision? So we wrote, we organized on Facebook, we lobbied, and we spoke by phone with the Secretary himself. It has become clear they know exactly what they are doing, and nothing we say matters.

and then there’s this:

We who are pendulum pushers are hanging on, holding our ground, and continuing to push back. The time has come for the pendulum to start moving the other way.

With an actual pendulum, it is gravity that eventually wins out over the momentum of the device. In the case of education policy, as with corporate banditry and endless war, we cannot wait for the laws of physics to do the job. We need to be pushing, slowing the swing, and pushing it towards a new direction. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in The Tipping Point, there are moments when ideas catch hold and begin to spread almost like a virus. There is some combination of outrage and hope that crystallizes into social change. I hope these ideas are infectious. It is about time for this pendulum to swing.What do you think? Are we approaching a tipping point? How can we make it so?

It’s up to us to make it so. Let’s keep working!

–Lisa Guisbond