The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.
Show up at a bar filled with ed reformers lately (these bars do exist) and you’ll find a lot of folks with heads down, dejected looks on their faces. Depending on the state (corporeal not mental) the bar is in, you could hear any number of things being uttered over their libations:
“The republicans screwed us on ESSA.”
“The democrats are playing us on charters. Don’t they know Obama supports them?”
“These damn opt-outers!”
“Doesn’t the NAACP get it?”
“John Oliver…I just can’t quit you.”
I love a good bout of self pity now and again, but in this instance I think we could all use a bit of tough love and advice: Get over it.
Perhaps the toughest thing about being part of any political or social movement is remembering that you’re actually a part of one, and that movements of all types have fits and starts, victories and defeats, arcs and circles. This one, of course—the movement to liberate low-income kids in particular from schools that don’t work—is no different.
That’s hard to swallow because, while we have some old heads in the room, it is a young movement filled with young people. One great thing about youth, other than how it allows you to process alcohol, is that although you may have been beaten up by life, as a matter of timing, you haven’t been beaten up by it forever. So when the punches start coming one after the other, especially on the things you care deeply about, it’s easy to get dejected. This malaise of defeat hangs heavily over reformers right now. With the changes in DC and elsewhere it’s palpable. There’s a gloom about it even.
You have to get over it.
A reporter asked me recently how I felt about all of this…dejection…among my colleagues, and it got me wondering. What would have happened if, after President Obama was elected (not the only political win but certainly the easiest to use for a sense of timing) the teachers unions just packed up and decided they’d lost? Got depressed? The head of the NEA started drinking and crying across the street at the Jefferson Hotel (there’s a great bar there)? And they just walked away? What world would we be living in now?
But they didn’t do that because they know it’s all cyclical. Sometimes you’re on the top, sometimes you’re on the bottom. Either way the key is to keep moving. It took them six years to string together just the right mix of conspiracies electric enough to scare the right while making the smug, elite left comfortable screwing over low-income black and brown inner-city kids, but they found a mix eventually.
And now we just have to find ours.
I remember a time not that long ago where you’d walk into a community room to talk about choice—and by that I mean vouchers—and you’d wonder if you’d make it out alive. Those were hot times. Those memories blaze compared to what we’re worried about now. Back then it was about whether or not we could even create anything. Now it’s about whether we can protect it long enough to get back on top again. This is a tough time, sure, but it’s not the worst time either. It’s a time of plenty, in fact, if you consider it against the famine of just 25 years ago.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I, and many of us, might not make it to the top of the mountain, but we can at least see it now not as a metaphor but as something reachable; a destination getting closer instead of speeding away. To all my friends and colleagues in “the movement” hurting over the unrest that currently colors the education-change landscape, now isn’t the time to drown in the sadness of having the fight taken to you. It’s your moment to remember why you’re here at all, and to know that just as the sun also rises, you will too.
You have to.
Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.