Saint Carl and his act of civil disobedience is still roiling through my mind—and it’s generated a bit of conversation in the comment section of my recent post arguing that to follow Carl’s lead and walk out on standardized tests is an arrogant action that dismisses the broader perspectives of the communities that we serve.

Perhaps the most interesting comment comes from Nate, who seemed a bit frustrated with my writing when he wrote:

I have come to understand that you truly are a tempered radical. I would like to recommend that you peruse the following book by Ken Robinson: Out of our Minds. This book was originally published in 2001 and I believe that it illustrates the fierce urgency of now. I don’t know that I would agree with Chew’s take on affecting change, but I do believe that change will most likely not come from within the current system.

One of the things that I found interesting in Nate’s comments was the sense of disappointment that I wasn’t advocating wholesale action on the part of teachers to stand up to “the current system”—which he obviously believes is behind all of America’s failures.

Nate’s opinions seem to represent the general thinking of most teachers towards education.  We constantly talk about “the system” as some nebulous, dark entity that is manipulating schools from behind a dark curtain somewhere.  Most of the time, we figure that ol’ Madge Spellings and W are hidden behind that curtain pulling the strings of the marionet, too.

What we fail to realize is that “the system” is really network of people that includes parents, business leaders, teachers, community advocates, retirees—all of whom have equal opportunity to select leaders that have clearly delinated plans for education.  Even if Nate’s right (And who can’t envision a legion of W’s henchmen manipulating public will.  Dick Cheney would make a great Sith Lord, after all), to overlook the fact that these leaders—-and the entire legislative branch of the federal government—were selected by the general public is supremely arrogant.

While I don’t currently agree with the choices that are being made by “the system” (my definition), I’m open to the idea that I am only one small part of that group decision making process—-and I respect “the system” (my definition) enough to consider that their perspectives should be valued and considered.

If “the system” (my definition) decided that the ideas of the current “administration” (another nebulous term that often incorrectly leaves out the hundreds of Senators and Representatives that vote on educational items too) are worth pursuing, shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that testing should play a role in educating our children?

Doesn’t considering “the system” (Nate’s definition) as a manipulative group of black hats with bad intentions suggest that voters and community leaders are woefully under-informed and completely incompetent?

I suspect that at least some of Nate’s dismissive scorn (He wrote: I have come to understand that you truly are a tempered radical.)—which are thrown in  my direction every time I question stagnancy in our profession—-comes from the fact that I’m willing to argue that teachers might just be wrong every now and then.

There seems to be this unwritten rule in conversations between educators that teachers are automatically right in conversations about kids.  If we feel strongly about something, then it must be so.  As a result, we end up speaking in what David Jakes once described as an echo chamber.  Group think becomes truth and we fail to grow as a profession.

And we end up looking like the same stubborn clods that we accuse “the system” (Nate’s definition) of being!

In some ways, Nate, the most radical writing I do comes when I push our profession to think about the flaws in our own positions—which includes the assumption that teachers automatically “know more” about kids than the communities that we serve.

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