Our Democracy

Dear friends and colleagues,

Back again.  I have been avoiding writing for the last year (or more).  I have had a few Lyme disease attacks since I last wrote!  

But otherwise all is great in my life—re children, grandchildren and friends. However, the world feels more depressing than last year. How one deals with this as a school teacher must be challenging. We “won” the election but the fascistic opposition scares me. They are so openly racists, anti-Semitic and so on. It is hard to expose them or Trump, his supporters like it and they now own one of only two parties.  Scary.

How one deals with the state of our world as a teacher baffles me.  I will need to get the teachers I know and even my own old schools to tell me this fall. Thoughts?

My own agenda this year is in trying to defend the idea of democratizing our schools. Our children spend 13 years in one of the most authoritarian institution in America. It surely influences them in many ways. The young learn from how they are treated—thus progressives have been partially successful in trying to make elementary classrooms more “democratic”. The richer the school’s population generally the more democratic is the spirit. There tends to be more mutual respect between adults and children.

However, even Dewey didn’t pay attention to the environment that teachers live with. They have zero power except on matters that are spelled out in the union contract. Schools could be leaders in exploring democracy’s possibilities—the trade-offs that make sense in their context. Yes I have seen and lived it

“It depends” sums up my solution to most matters facing us. But this is only possible if! If the people “it” depends on to carry “it” out have a powerful voice in decisions.

Democracy is being challenged all around us. We need to fix ours.


5 Responses

  1. Dear Deb Meier,
    You have been my inspiration since 1966 when I began teaching English in Flushing High School. By the 70’s as I’m sure you know, busing, violence, a failing economy, Viet Nam all contributed to failing schools, disheartened teachers, and a new kind of teachers’ union. I started an alternative mini-school modeled after CPE within the 3000+ student population at Flushing. We started with 25 incoming freshman. The only requirement to be accepted into FHS mini school was students who came to school, who showed up. We grew to 50,then 100. The program still exists, albeit a bit change. We had one goal: to get kids successful enough in reading to exit the mini-school and join the main stream where they could be successful and graduate. We did what ever it took. Whether they accomplished that in weeks, months or years did not matter.
    I recently retired after 50 years doing the best, most challenging and important work anyone can hope to have. I am forever grateful I’ve been a teacher, an admin, a school supe, a college prof; in NYC, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Connecticut and schools as diverse as the communities that exist in those places. I’m still doing school work as a leadership trainer affiliated with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
    Please take heart. I work daily (through Zoom) with teachers and admins who have worked this past year in the most challenging environment that has ever existed in our time for educators. They each and every one of them, young and veteran, conservative and liberal, exceed any and all expectations. They are kind and caring and have advocated for kids to be in school on-site no matter what. Like our medical front-liners, they did what needed to be done; learned how to teach virtually or teach to live students as well as those at home. Yes; some retired; some quit, some were afraid. By and large they carried the weight of loss and grief and comforted families even as they continued to be blamed for all the evil and incompetence; the divisiveness and ugliness surrounding them and in our neighborhoods and communities. They taught children the most important lessons: to care about each other, to be resilient; to recognize their feelings and develop strategies to cope with anger and grief. And they even taught them to read and love school!
    Be well. I look forward to your 100th birthday celebration.

    With gratitude,
    Jane Sandbank, Ed.D.
    Larchmont New York

  2. Thank you for writing this. It is encouraging to read your words and know you are out there.

  3. Please read “School Zone”
    By John D Halverson
    U Texas at Austin
    Master(s) Thesis in Architecture

    May I send PDF to you?

  4. Debbie, it seems to me that the most likely route to more democracy for teachers in public schools is through a comparable increase in democracy for students in those teachers’ classrooms–`a la John Gatto’s guerilla techniques, which ironically got him voted Teacher of the Year (twice) in NYC and once in NY State. Simultaneously, I would urge teachers to act on behalf of both students and themselves by refusing to administer, as well as teach to, the onslaught of standardized tests that they say they abhor almost as much as the young people do. Years of compliance (most likely due to fear of job loss) have come home to roost. If the teachers were to organize, with or without the support of their union, and say, “Hell, no, we won’t go” on with this standardization of so-called education, something would have to change for the good (unless, of course, the Commissioner of Education pulled a Reagan and fired them all, as he did with the air traffic controllers, but then that would (finally) fire up the union heads, would it not? In short, time for a declaration of independence in education is at hand. Which teachers will be the next Jeffersons, Adamses, Franklins et al.?

  5. I am finding the effort to thwart the teaching of institutional racism the beginning of an even more horrendous agenda

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