Friday, November 11, 2011

The Convenient Truth About My Road Trip to SUNY Cortland, Part 1

11/11/11 - Been waiting  a hundred years to write that.

Happy Armistice Day everyone. That was what we called it when I was a kid. Just read that 116,000 Americans died in the Great War - most over a very short period of time. We visited the War Memorial Museum in London not long ago and I had to be torn away - just trying to imagine what being part of that was like.

I realize I have too much to say so I am making this a 2-parter. (See part 2 here.)

Last Update: 5:30pm

Part 1
I got back Thursday from my overnight trip to SUNY Cortland, a small state school not far from Syracuse. I was representing the Grassroots Education Movement film "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman." The surprising demand for our film as a counter to WFS in colleges has been amazing. (See the note I attached at the end of this post as an example of the kind of email we get every day.) Of course need I remind you that the UFT continues to boycott our film while failing to come up with an adequate response to the ed deformers - but then again when they try to straddle the line how can they? At the TC panel when an audience member attempted to brand the union as opposing standardized testing, Julie pointed out that union has basically supported high stakes testing (though you hear whimpers now and then about how awful it is.)

This was the 4th panel I have been on over the past 2 weeks. Up to now I have backed off these panels, deferring to so many of our great young spokespeople who are so facile with the issues. But with all our classroom people so busy, the the 3rd string is going in - me.

Let's see now, I was at Hofstra, NYU, Teachers College and Cortland. All in 2 weeks. Whereas NYU and TC were post screening QandAs, at Hofstra and Cortland I was expected to speak for 15 minutes.

Yikes! A speech. I really have never done much of that so I had to do a lot of thinking, a dangerous thing, continuously worried I would have a Rick Perry moment.

The speaking events did not follow a screening so the audience did not necessarily see our film. Both had a focus of sorts on charters - at Hofstra I was in a debate of sorts with a NYC Charter School Center rep. I did OK but felt me remarks should have been tighter but I had trouble putting the case against ed deform into 15 minutes. That experience helped me organize a better presentation at Cortland which I hope to further refine just in case I have to do it again.

I did have some trepidation about heading into the land of academia where I am not that comfortable. I did not leave the classroom and I believe that no matter what people say deep down those who did leave must be wondering what was wrong with me.

But as you'll see, the experience at Cortland was A+ all the way.

I want to thank Alexis Abramo of the Teacher Professional Development Network at SUNY Cortland for organizing the event and taking great care of us. She got us plane tickets and hotel rooms and even picked us up at the airport. She arranged a full day for us including lunch, dinner and a conference room for us to work in preparing our remarks, also treating us to lunch and organizing a dinner with much of the faculty before the panel. And she brought us chocolate snacks.

Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz
By "us" I mean Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz a professor at Teachers College, Columbia who I flew up with. I  briefly met Yolanda at one of the New Teacher Underground meetings this past summer where she was a guest speaker. As we went around the room announcing how many years the teachers were in the system, we heard numbers from one to four - until they came to me. My "35 years" blew some people away. She came over to thank me for my years of service and gave me a big hug. We chatted and realized we were both on the same panel in Cortland.

So when we met again as we were boarding the plane and found we were sitting next to each other, we began a rich conversation about education that went on - except for a some breaks during the day - until we closed down the restaurant in the hotel later that night after a delicious late post dinner snack. We would have kept going except Yolanda had to catch a 5:30AM flight back.

I found out on this trip that Yolanda is one of those incredibly supportive people who expresses appreciation to everyone for what they do - really always thinking of others - one of those Teach for America alum who really gets it.

After lunch we went to a bag lunch seminar run by Lalitha Vasudevan, another Teachers College Prof and a good buddy of Yolanda's. There was a small group of future teachers in the room and I was impressed by their fervor and commitment to teaching. I was thinking whether these fully trained teachers preparing for a career who were not Teach For America 6 week short-term wonders would go the way of the Dodo bird.

Many of you  may remember the anti-Teachers College frenzy that went on in the early years of BloomKlein during the Lucy Calkins craze where teachers felt that the TC method was being forced down their throats. Well, being exposed to these ladies for an entire day certainly had a positive impact on me.

After dinner, we went over to the lecture hall. Both films had been screened
Sandra Vergari
3 times over the last week but I was concerned that people in the audience may not have seen the film. So I asked for a brief segment to be shown.

In addition to Yolanda and myself the panel also included Sandra Vergari who has done extensive research on charter schools. Sandra was there to provide a neutral perspective on charter schools to counter my rabid anti-charter stance while Yolanda was taking a position somewhere between Sandra and I.

In Part 2 I will talk about the panel, the audience (mostly students with a batch of professors) reaction and my impressions of a day spent in the bowels of academia.

In our movie, Sam Coleman from GEM and NYCORE, a teacher at PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, makes some powerful statements about how high stakes testing has affected his school, which services so any English language learners. He says when asked why his school doesn't do as well on the tests Sam says, "You're asking the wrong question. What's wrong with your tests?" Here is a great piece on Sam's school, which by the way has a number of activist young teachers working with NYCORE. (Thanks to Gotham Schools for the link). It is noteworthy that the DOE offered reams of support for the principal and the work the school is doing.

A look into a dual-language program at Brooklyn’s P.S. 24. (Feet in Two Worlds)
Our Film at UNM
Hi there,
I am part of the Peace Studies Program here at the University of New Mexico and we are interested in doing a large scale (hopefully!) screening of the movie at the start of next year where we plan to try to raise some money for your work and local education reform efforts.  In the meantime - we would like to show it to a small group of students and faculty this coming Monday (Nov. 14) in order to figure out a specific set of talking points and how to prep. classes and the public in advance of the film and to better prepare for a post film discussion. Last semester we did the same with 'Waiting for Superman' and were able to quite successfully debunk the film...  We hope to take as good of a look at your film in order to highlight its attributes...When we showed 'Waiting for Superman' last semester (to an audience of about 100+ people), we had invited the New Mexico Secretary of Education - Hannah Skandera (formerly of Florida fame) to engage in a debate with our in state NEA Union President.  She cancelled at the last second when she realized that the crowd on campus might be critical of her - so we had a great time deconstructing the film without her!


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