Open Your Mouth and Speak

Open Your Mouth and Speak
A recent Twitter communique with Sherri Spelic inspired this post.

I’m an intense person. I inherited much of my intensity from my father. We share a taste for the hyperbolic. This is especially true when it comes to conversation. Rarely do we deal in shades of gray; almost everything we say explodes from our mouths in larger than life language. Our opinions go from 0-60 in the span of a single sentence. A movie isn’t just bad; it’s the biggest piece of cinematic garbage since the invention of the medium. If we’re both enjoying a song, we’re sure to describe it as sublime, a masterpiece of modern composition in fact.

Take, for instance, this passage from one of his most recent travel dispatches.

“The decoration of inlaid marble is the finest work of its kind I have ever seen. I could not avoid reaching out my hand and running my fingers over the surface. The chapel was crammed with people, cheek by jowl, even though we had to line up first and be let in in groups of twenty or so.”

Compare that with a chunk of writing from my Honeymoon.

“Roads here seem to be more of a suggestion, as drivers, pedestrians, and animals compete to see who can move in the most random patterns. Speeds are always excessive. I couldn’t help but think of Mad Max each time we took a taxi somewhere, our off-brand SUV caroming back and forth across gravel paths.”

Note the similar penchant for bold statements. I’ve never really spoken to him about this shared love of the hyperbolic side of life. That’s because I don’t want to spoil the fun by calling attention to it. I love exaggerating. On one hand, I fully realize that I consistently blow things out of proportion. That nothing is ever as extreme as I make it out to be.  But on the other hand this is sort of how everything feels to me. The most quotidian of events triggers the same cortisol and adrenaline spike as, say, getting punched in the face.

Part of this is due to my ADHD. Without the ability to filter out non-essential information from the environment, my brain remains in a constant state of fight-or-flight. The incessant chattering of my synapses keep my central nervous system tightly wound in anticipation. Growing up with my dad, I’ve also obviously internalized many of his idiosyncrasies. He speaks with such conviction and fortitude.

I know that he feels that strongly every single time, because that’s exactly how I feel. So when I talk about education, I talk about it in terms both severe and absolute. De-grading the classroom becomes a shedding of skin. High-stakes testing turns into a stain on our nation’s school systems. Lesson plans are matters of life and death. This type of thinking can make productive discourse difficult. I’ve turned off colleagues by brandishing my ideology as a weapon.

I wasn’t always like this. When I used to work at a No Excuses charter school, I didn’t proselytize. It wasn’t until I read Maja Wilson’s Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment that something began to stir inside me. It felt as if the words on the page were burning away years of internal rot. The more I learned about critical pedagogy the closer I felt to myself. A homecoming to a place I’d forgotten even existed.

In my exuberance I took to Twitter. I stuck my nose into conversations well above my paygrade and knowledge base. I’ve Tweeted countless cringe-worthy statements. Ever cut a dog’s toenails too far back? The raw paw meat bleeds all over the place. This is how I felt: exposed and bleeding out. Leaving behind the comforting pedagogy of my past was scary. It was, and still is, quite lonely sometimes.

Only now am I learning to wield my opinions with any sort of dexterity. I know this will take time and a lot of mistakes. I’ve come to embrace putting my foot in mouth, at least when it comes to identifying my beliefs about education. It’s not that I’m looking to embarrass myself or say something awkward, just that pushing through that stuff is how I hit the pay dirt.

So, if you’re a fellow educator grappling with questions of pedagogy, ethics, and teacher agency put yourself out there. Join a Facebook group or two. Get vocal on Twitter. Seek out like-minded people and commiserate. Just open your mouth and speak.


  1. edifiedlistener

    Thank you, Peter, for sharing these insights into who you are and how you operate. I am proud to have been part of your reflective process. Speaking up is inherently risky. We face the certitude of judgment from any and potentially all sides, where fairness is not a pre-requisite. That’s the persistent hard truth. So daring to speak up anyway *is* brave and requires fortitude. Encouraging others to give it a try, to run the risk, is a wonderful step in widening the dialogue.


  2. Kris Giere

    A community of discourse is vital to growth and learning. So is the opportunity to unburden oneself from a protracted stifling of one’s voice. It is freeing to open up and speak freely, and it is brave to put one’s ideas, feelings, and beliefs out there for others to use as they choose. Embracing that vulnerability is vital to our growth, not just as educators but as human beings. Like with all discourse, it is cyclical when healthy, not linear. We must put ourselves out there and speak, not simply listen and internalize. Without active contributions to a community, we are only observers, not members. Thank you for this important reminder.


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