This guest blog comes from Mary E. Del Savio a former teacher and current graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate school of education.
Today, Friday, February 25 at 4 p.m., when teachers, students, and community members rally at District Headquarters to protest the lack of voice they have been given in the school reform process, I will be in attendance.
For the past three years as an education doctoral student I have had the privilege of working with so many new public school teachers in our District. Their stories of hard work and dedication inspire me each and every day, and most of their challenges in the classroom remind me of my own, during the five years I was in the classroom.
But lately, the huge gap between what the District says it believes in and the actual policies and mandates that teachers are forced to follow has me asking some questions many teachers have been too intimidated to ask.
Questioning the District's Core Beliefs
The School District alleges that:
- "Children come first.
- Parents are our partners.
- Victory is in the classroom and facilitated by a strong instructional leader.
- Leadership and accountability are the keys to success.
- It takes the engagement of the entire community to ensure the success of its public schools."
However, how can we continue to believe that in our District children come first? In many schools, class rosters change four, five, even six, or more times over the course of a year. The current curriculum for math and reading requires no critical thinking skills of our students. And student led walkouts at Audenried, Martin Luther King, and West Philadelphia High Schools signaled that, despite the threats of "disciplinary action," students were upset with the conversion plans for their schools, the force transfer of their teachers next fall, and their exclusion from the discussion entirely.
Further, how can we continue to believe the District celebrates victory in the classroom and strong instructional leadership, or that leadership and accountability are the keys to success?
Daily lessons are handed to teachers in the form of a script. We attract the brightest and the most energetic graduates to work here in Philadelphia classrooms, and, at the same time, we demand these same individuals become silent, unreflective, and robotic. Teachers who ask questions are intimidated, disciplined, or even removed from classrooms. The recent reassignment of two committed Philadelphia teachers at Audenreid High School, following their voicing public criticism of the school’s conversion to a charter, is regarded by many as an attempt to silence District critics and keep teachers in line.
Finally, how can we continue to believe that parents are our partners, or that it takes the engagement of the entire community to ensure the success of its public schools, when communities' request for the data to understand their school being targeted for charter conversion went ignored?
Today's rally, being called by the Teacher Action Group and supported by many organizations throughout the city, including the PFT, is prompted by the District’s actions over the last two weeks toward those who have raised questions about the conversion of their schools into charters as part of Ackerman’s Renaissance School initiative.
Teachers should not be expected to accept unquestioned answers, or be intimidated to ask their legitimate questions.
As educator and theorist Paulo Freire once wrote, "Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate humans from their own decision-making is to change them into objects."
Today’s rally stands in opposition to this alienation, and that is why I will stand in solidarity with these teachers, students, parents, and community leaders. I encourage all who care about the future of education in this city to do the same.
The rally will call on the School District to:
- Give students, parents, teachers and community members a legitimate role in directing school reform in Philadelphia
- Stop intimidating teachers and students
- Have a transparent process of school change
I hope to see many of you out there today, joining me in demanding to be be a part of making the decisions that affect OUR schools and OUR cities.
Mary E. Del Savio is a third year Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. She taught for five years as a 2003 Houston Teach for America Corps Member. She has worked as a Fellow Advisor for the past two years with the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows, and is currently an instructor for the Child & Adolescent Development course for first-year Teach for America teachers in the School District of Philadelphia's Promise Academies.
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