On thoughtful disagreements and righteous anger- a reply to Pres. Tierney’s recent email

I have been writing this post in my head since at least Occupy the DOE, so it is not simply a direct reply to president of the American Educational Research Association Bill Tierney’s recent email in which he, I expect in anticipation of the protests planned for Arne Duncan’s invited talk at the AERA conference, wrote:

“I am weary of the abuse of social media by writers hurling anonymous, venomous insults—a practice that encourages the general retreat to intellectual neighborhoods. Our work and our interactions with one another should model productive conversation about the nature of education, schooling, and reform. The conference gives us an opportunity to demonstrate very publicly how thoughtful disagreements can take place. I hope that in the invited addresses, the presidential sessions, the myriad papers, roundtables, and posters, and in my own presidential address, we will challenge our own assumptions rather than simply reconfirm what we think we know.”

I will get back to this email in a moment, but first I want to tell what I was writing when this email arrived. Because I was thinking about the multiple ways we are silenced and silence ourselves. I was thinking of righteous anger and the ethical imperative to defend our humanity, our potential for democracy; to do justice as love in public.[i]

This week I received yet another email from a colleague, a person who I have never met or known, telling me that s/he could no longer withstand the toxicity of his/her academic workplace; that the imposition of the edTPA was driving her/him from teacher education. I get these emails regularly from people who have committed their life’s work to teacher education, but are being threatened, intimidated and surveilled into silence, resignation, despair.

And on facebook I follow the lengthy discussions as teachers, often using pseudonyms for fear of retribution, wonder if they can speak to parents about their concerns with standardized testing. I read as teachers post their letters of resignation, their weariness with being called lazy and selfish by corporate deformers while their work is increasingly micro-managed into emptiness.

I hear from a colleague who worries about posting a paper on the AERA portal, fearing that higher ups will read it and thus complicate a tenure review.

Another colleague emails to remind me to not use her edu account when communicating about activism.

Last week, a colleague presented a research quandary: she wants to research the sites from which neo-liberal corporate education ‘reform’ emerges, but everyone she interviews from these sites has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Just as faculty and students being made to use the edTPA must sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Secrecy and silencing.

And then, just as a reminder, there is me- who lost her job for speaking my concerns about the TPA and supporting students who refused to participate in the field-test being run by Pearson.

We live at a moment when demands for silence are profound; when voicing disagreement and making arguments for academic freedom elicit implicit and explicit threats; when ‘toxic’ work environments are more and more the norm, and teachers, students and higher education faculty are subject to the imposition of ‘standards,’ rubrics, scores, outcome measures, data points and other aspects of the accountability regime that discount whole swaths of what it means to know, research, communicate, be human.

For those of us who ever find ourselves in some space on the margins, being discounted is not new. Some people have never had the privilege of being treated as if their voices matter to those in positions of power.  As a woman, I am well acquainted with being told to lower my voice, to speak more carefully, to not be so negative, to engage in thoughtful disagreement more politely, to smile more. As a woman who came of age during the woman’s movement of the 1970s, I know a head pat and attempt at dismissal when I see one. As an ambivalent academic, I am well aware of the ways that claims of professionalism, objectivity and politeness have been used to secure the status quo and protect it from challenges by those left out by history and oppression.

“I am searching for a methodology of the heart.” (Diversi and Moreira).  What does a methodology of the heart look like? what does it sound like? is it angry and sometimes ‘rude’? does it ever ache in a space beyond words? does it make us uncomfortable, a discomfort we learn to translate into boredom or weariness? how do we listen to this methodology? when do we act from and within it?

I find myself boxed in by Pres. Tierney’s email, a box that will be familiar to those who wish to be heard from the margins. If I am angry, am I a ‘venomous’ blogger? If I note that the Secretary of Education has promulgated practices that lead to school closures, attacks on teachers unions and collective bargaining, the opening of public resources to profiteers, and the abuse of children and of education through the imposition of high stakes testing, the common core and technocratic accountability regimes am I being un-thoughtful?

I think of Freire’s pedagogy of the heart. It is teaching, at every level; it is research, wherever it happens; it is political work. It emerges from our lives, our bodies, our experiences. It is messy and discomforting and activist. It takes many shapes, uses the range of words, speaks from our bodies.  As an activist and a scholar, I will speak and act from these places. I will name injustice. I will not allow illusions of propriety to allow violence to go unnamed and its perpetrators unchallenged.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never bring about genuine change.” (Lorde, 1983, p 112)

[i] “Justice is what love looks like in public.”- Cornel West

Diversi, M. and Moreira, C. (2009). Betweener talk: decolonizing knowledge production, pedagogy, and praxis. Walnit Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Lorde, A. (1983).  The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In. C. Morega and G.E. Anzaldúa (Eds.). This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color. New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press.


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