During this week’s edchat I saw a name scroll by that made me look twice. Mixed among the many tweets was a tweet from Diane Ravitch. I had just recently read an adaptation from her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education in American Educator, which I had really enjoyed. For those of you not familiar with Ravitch, she was Assistant Secretary of Education for George W. Bush and a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act when it was first passed. Over the years she changed her views and is now adamantly against the policy. In short, she is highly influential and well-respected amongst many educators and policy makers.
Thus, seeing her name scroll by caught my eye and my attention. It also caught attention of some other edchat participants. What ensued was a debate over whether to acknowledge her presence or not. On one side, edchat is not about who is more important, or as it was put, about ‘rock stars.’ On the other side, edchat participants want their voices heard. Some of us feel like we’re trapped in a bubble, with all of our ideas, reflections, experience and knowledge bouncing around inside our community without escaping into the mainstream. “I wish Arne Duncan was here to hear this,” or “It’s too bad Obama isn’t at edchat tonight” are some of the comments I’ve read over the last year.
So, when Ravitch’s name crossed my twitstream, it was a big deal. At least to me. I thanked her for participating in the conversation. This sparked a conversation with an edchat participant I respect about whether we should be highlighting people who participate in edchat just because they are influential.
What makes edchat unique is that it is for and by the participants. While there are moderators and organizers, it is ultimately the participants who choose the topic and make the conversation. The conversation moves so fast (Ravitch herself confessed it was too fast for her!) and there are so many ideas flying by that when an idea or comment catches my eye, or if I engage in conversation, I may only have enough time to make a note of the Twitter handle. Often, I must go back afterwards and look through the stream to learn more about a person I was conversing with. More than often, this person becomes part of my learning network. While they may not be as highly influential on a larger scale, they are influential to me and I respect their ideas and the dialogue that we share.
So do we treat someone who is influential and well-known, an established member of the education field, differently than we would a colleague?
I don’t think we should treat a ‘rock star’ in education differently than our colleagues. I think we should engage them on the same level we would our colleagues. I think we do need to keep in mind, however, that if we don’t remind ourselves of someone’s influence or if we shrug someone off due merely to their influence, we run the risk of perpetuating the ‘us vs. them’ culture between those of us who are in the classroom and those outside the classroom or those with seemingly little power and those who seem to have all of the power. Of course, ideally, it should be educators who are the policy makers and educators who run schools and the school system. In order for this to happen, we need to engage policy makers and so-called ‘rock stars’ in our conversation and expose them to our day-to-day struggles and our innovative ideas and practices in the classroom.
What are your thoughts?
Ryan J. Wassink