Deborah Kenny on School Democracy

A good read about democracy: Born to Rise.

I’m amazed at how successful the so-called “reformers” and their allies have managed to implant a lie in the minds of otherwise quite interesting and kind people!  In my travels to colleges (mostly fairly selective) students buy into the anti-union talk about schools, claiming that it’s wrong for them to have a guaranteed lifetime income just because they got through two years of teaching. I have no trouble disabusing them of this lie, but…  It reminds me how widespread this view may be if you don’t come from a union family yourself.

So I forgive Deborah Kenny for writing an interesting book, Born to Rise, for her misinformed – even slanderous – claims about the impact of unions.   She assumes, for example, that everything in the contract is there because the unions want it to be there!  Many of the practices she ad I abhor existed before teachers unions had collective bargaining rights and in many states that do not bargain with unions, and in many many fields of endeavor that are not unionized.  My problems almost always came from management, not the union.  That’s why Sy Fliegel’s  “creative compliance” strategy, which she refers to, works.   If tried.  I fear the current reforms will bring us more, not less, docile teachers.

I forgive her because it’s a very good book to read—useful, informative and inspiring.   Also–Deborah Kenny has nice words to say about me and our East Harlem schools, and her educational values are close to mine.  She’s turned off by rote learning of mathematics–which matter a lot to her, and loves the life of school for many of the reasons I do.  And her name is Deborah.

She tells us about her work creating the Harlem Village Academies with passion and useful detail.  She should have come to Boston with me and started it as a fully public school instead!   Her only mistake–stemming from ignorance I suspect–is that as a result she concludes that freedom and accountability are the only two keys needed. What shines through, however is a ore important key: her respect for and trust of her peers as well as the students–and her understanding that her first task as principal was to create a communal culture that represented the values she cherished for adults: including the time and space for collegiality. And her readiness to put up with the inevitable–we’ll never get it perfectly.

Since the crisis we face is about democracy, not schooling Kenny’s contribution to creating a description os what democratic staff culture might be like is critical.

One Response

  1. I was also moved by her book, especially her personal story of creating the schools, despite her tragedy. But you have hit the nail on the head. I’m always disappointed when educated people fail to look into the complexities, instead of opting for simple (and inaccurate) stereotypes. I wish she had followed you to Boston. She might have been very creative developing democratic learning communities under your tutelage.

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