Saturday, December 10, 2011

Teaming up with Phyllis to reach beyond the choir

I asked Phyllis Bush

to write a short piece about herself, so you could see why she and I are working together. Here is what she wrote:

"After growing up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, I graduated with a degree in English from the University of Iowa. I spent the first seven years of my career teaching middle school English/language arts in Rockford, Illinois and in District 59 in the Chicago suburbs. In 1973 we moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. After a year of subbing and working on my Masters degree, I spent the next 24 years as an English teacher/department chair at South Side High School, an inner city school with a strong sense of community, despite the fact that many of our students were economically deprived.

After many years of very happy retirement, I began to be concerned about the negative consequences of No Child Left Behind. Watching the devastating effects of both the Race to the Top and the current political hostility towards public schools and teachers, I became alarmed. While I was too busy going to school, teaching, and raising a family to have been an activist during the 60s, now that I am in my 60s, I have the time and the passion to speak out for those who are too intimidated and too fearful to speak for themselves. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!"

When we met during the events this summer in Washington DC, Phyllis and I began to talk about how to use the voting power and expertise of retired teachers and grandparents(and anyone else who wants to join us!) to change the direction the federal government and states are taking education. She told me about her experiences explaining to people (who have only heard sound bites) what is really going on. These are often people who would not go to a public screening, but might well come to a small group of friends meeting in someone’s home. The idea of using either the Mis-Education Nation video or August to June for such small group meetings, led to thinking of the people who would lead such groups as ambassadors of sorts: making the link between people with progressive ideas who are aware of what is happening in public education (but whose jobs are not threatened by their speaking out), and people of good will who might be energized by hearing more about what the situation looks like “on the ground.”

When Phyllis got back to Indiana, she and 10-15 people met with Anthony Cody and brought up the idea. She also wrote to Rita Solnet of Parents Across America. In the meantime I talked to several CA retired teachers. Ray Bacchetti, of Palo Alto, Mark Phillips of Woodacre, and Bonnie Theile and Terry Sayre of Tulare all asked to be kept in the loop. In October we posted a discussion site on my Facebook page, but Facebook did one of its unpredictable changes and my site no longer has a discussion page...a good reason to put this idea onto my faithful Blogster Blog!

It is our feeling that there needs to be a clear action we suggest when such meetings are held. We are also looking for a good title that people can refer to. I have been using 'senior ambassadors," but that may sound more like the name of a travel group! So our first step is to grow a bit bigger by creating an online community that can come up with a unified direction, outreach ideas, and a name.

Would you be interested in joining this effort?

In a separate but related move, the Indiana folks are considering using Diane Ravitch’s visit this coming March as a reason for showing several films at a local theater: Race to Nowhere, American Teacher, The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman, Lessons From The Real World, and August to June were suggested. There is also a possibility of working with Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education with the United Church of Christ (who wrote a powerful article: and arranging screenings through UCC. If Diane is coming to your area, that might be an impetus to suggest to whatever group is bringing her that they also screen AUGUST TO JUNE!


  1. I have been asked numerous times why I went to the SOS March in Washington. I have given this much thought. I have been bothered by the direction of the “Education Reform” movement ever since No Child Left Behind became law. The latest “reform” movement, The Race to the Top, appears to be a punitive extension of the No Child Left Behind. Given the rapid nature that Indiana has passed so called education reforms, I am appalled that those who have never taught and those who have never worked in education seem to be deciding the direction of how reform should be addressed. I am also appalled that those who are on the front lines of working with young people seem to be the target of all of the reform.

    I am bothered that no one who is making all of the charges about our failing schools seems to address the fact that learning is a collaborative effort which must include students, parents, teachers, and a community that values education. I am also bothered that no one making policy has addressed poverty as an issue. While no one would ever suggest that poor children cannot learn, how important is learning to a child who is hungry, to a child whose school has substandard facilities, to a child who is homeless?

    Even though many imply that teachers only want the status quo, job protection, 3 months of summer vacation, no accountability, and the list of red herrings goes on and on. I do not know any teacher who wants to keep lousy teachers in the classroom because the handful of teachers who are not doing an adequate job give a black eye to all of the teachers who are doing a good job. However, most teachers would like to see their unit head (principal, superintendent) work with ineffective teachers either to help them improve or to help them out the door. Teachers are not looking for special privileges to keep them in lifetime employment. They are looking for due process, so that they cannot be fired unjustly.

    Public school teachers are not threatened by charter schools or vouchers. However, they feel threatened by the unlevel playing field that school “choice” represents. If there is fair and equitable funding among schools, public schools can easily compete. However, when tax dollars go to private schools which do not have to accept all students, which do not have to provide services to special needs students, and which do not have to have the same accountability, something is wrong with this.

    Accountability is another issue. I cannot imagine that most teachers resist accountability; however, the accountability police seem to think that testing and testing and more testing is the same as learning. To my mind, there are only two good reasons for testing. One is for diagnostic purposes; the other is for evaluation. Accountability should be judged on something over which teachers have some control. If a child has decided that he/she cares not about the test being given, then why should his/her teacher be held accountable for that?

    Having said all of this, one of the things which I find most bothersome about “education reform” is that I hear very little from critics talking about the joy of learning, the intrinsic value of an “aha” moment, or the creative process.

  2. Ooops! I am rather new to this. The I.N.F.O.E. post is from me, Phyllis Bush.

  3. I so agree with everything that was said above...bravo to you! I am a retired teacher who was one of the originators of a group here in Rockford, IL, called WEE (Watchdogs for Ethics in Education). We came together because our school board hired a superintendent (Lavonne Sheffield) who was a graduate of the Broad Institute. We, with the help of many, were able to get her out before the end of her second year. The problem is: she did so much damage before we got her out...closed several buildings, fired good administrators, fired many teachers...the list goes on and on. In these two years, one thing became very clear to us that wasn't at all clear when we were active teachers...a lot goes on behind closed doors that isn't necessarily good for education! This has prompted us to continue to attend board meetings, committee meetings, write articles & letters to the editor, etc. We would love to become "pen pals" with you to broaden our base. Let me know what you think! Keep up the good work...teachers are survivors...we WILL survive this as well.

  4. Of course, we would love for your group to connect with ours. Amy Valens and I would love to create a network of retired teachers and grandparents across the country who have similar goals in mind. We are still searching for a name for the group that would be inclusive of retired teachers, grandparents, and people interested in saving the public schools from this "reform" scrooge.
    My e-mail is

    Once we connect, I can fill you in more specifically about what we are doing.

  5. Congratulations MJPnanny! You are a model for what a local action could look like! What still stuns me is how few outside the school community are aware of the huge changes happening inside schools. I am wondering if our group should have something in its title about reaching beyond the choir.

  6. So far the suggestions are: Transforming the Narrative
    Grown Ups Across America
    Experience Talking
    Beyond the Choir
    Grandparents Across America
    Senior Perspectives About Education Challenges(SPAEC)
    Perspectives On Education in Today's Schools (POETS)

  7. Hmmm-I kind of like POETS, but I wonder if that's because I was an English teacher.

  8. It's my favorite so far too--probably for the same reason! Does it carry our message?

  9. Several of the people with whom I have spoken like POET, but we think that it really doesn't carry our message. We are still working on it, but until the holidays are over, I think most of are kind of brain dead. Maybe we can brainstorm then.

    I think we need something short and pithy and memorable that will still manage to carry our message.

  10. yes, sadly POET is a lovely acronym, but doesn't give the slightest information about our group. I am also being overwhelmed by the holidays. May it be better after January 1!

  11. I agree. I am feeling overwhelmed, too. After January 1st sounds pretty good to me. I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas.