My wife and I watched the movie Extraordinary Measures last night. Starring Harrison Ford, it’s based on a true story of the fight by a family and a scientist to create medicine that would allow children to survive a terrible illness. During that long struggle, they had to make many difficult compromises, but they did so while “keeping their eyes on the prize” — making the medicine and getting it out to children.
During my community organizing career, the goal of our work was to get to the negotiating table and to compromise. The key, however, was to ensure that we got half a loaf, not half a baby. We always kept in mind our end goals and the concept behind “The importance of being unprincipled.”
In the midst of being relentlessly attacked (as many teachers rightfully feel is happening to us now), however, it’s easy to lose sight of that idea, especially if many of your attackers operate like they are self-righteous ideologues with a monopoly on the truth. A member of the Los Angeles School Board recently offered one reason why Los Angeles teachers might be reacting so negatively to efforts by the group Parent Revolution and their allies: “When you declare war on people, you have to expect them to act like combatants.” And, unfortunately, these attacks are likely to continue.
In the midst of this poisoned atmosphere, I hope we teachers (including me) can keep our eyes on the prize — helping our students become life-long learners, working with their families to enhance lives and communities, and maintaining and sustaining our professional dignity. This politics involved in this process will need to include conflict and, at times, rancor, though it’s important to not burn bridges. It will also need to include following Saul Alinsky’s axiom that “the price of criticism is a constructive alternative,” which includes proposals like “Transforming School Conditions: Building Bridges to the Education System That Students And Teachers Deserve” and the upcoming book, Teaching 2030.
And it will include compromise — of the half a loaf, and not half a baby variety. Though I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of it, I’d be inclined to put the recent Massachusetts Teachers Association proposal on teacher evaluation in that category, and there are others. I’d be interested in hearing from readers about other examples that you believe have been good compromises out there, and what have been the key elements in getting there.
I didn’t include this in my Education Predictions for 2011 because it may fall more into the “wishful thinking” category, but I do hope that in 2011 all of us in the education world can keep in mind the word roots of “compromising.”
In 1600, it meant “showing signs of future excellence.”