There’s a scene in an episode of The Simpsons where Homer and Mr. Burns find themselves trapped by a blizzard in a log cabin. The two men, beset by cabin fever, grow paranoid and attempt to kill the other.
“Stay back!” Homer tells Mr. Burns, “I have powers. Political powers!” Upon hearing this, Mr. Burns hallucinates an army of Mao, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Ramses standing behind Homer. I’ve always loved this scene. There’s something appealing about the idea of standing up to adversity with an army of your fiercest, most passionate supporters backing you up. I often find myself replicating this scene in my head. Only instead of Mr. Burns, I’m squaring off against the forces of standardization, accountability, and technocracy. My professional idols stand behind me, urging me forward with quotes from John Dewey and visions of an education system free of harm.
The tragic and sudden loss of Joe Bower was a solemn reminder of our interconnectivity as educators. His passing was met with a wave of support and remembrances on social media. We draw inspiration and strength and knowledge from so many others. I wanted to take the time to express my gratitude to a handful of educators who have helped guide my personal journey through education.
This post is simply a way to say ‘Thank you.’
I’m a high maintenance colleague. I send a lot of emails and spend a creepy amount of time dwelling on the craft of teaching. This isn’t necessarily a good thing; it often leads to intense bouts of self-doubt and philosophical hand wringing. It is in these moments that I reach out to Paul Thomas.
I began emailing Paul after reading the fantastic book De-testing and De-grading Schools. The issues raised by the book blew my mind. Never before had I come across such incendiary ideas. He has responded to every single email I’ve sent since I first contacted him last April. He’s read over my work, calmed my nerves, and inspired me to push forward on my pedagogical journey. Everything he says makes me feel good. His presence acts as a touchstone. Whenever I start to wobble and feel my spirit sag, I know I can count on him to reorient me to what’s right and what’s just. Many others feel this way about Paul, and for good reason.
Alfie Kohn and Lawrence Baines are in my invisible posse as well. Alfie was kind enough to reply to an email I sent him after a particularly difficult week. When my newfound pedagogical views made me feel like a pariah at school, he eased my spirit by sharing some of his own challenges. Lawrence and I communicate via email every few months to talk about NAEP scores, the history of teaching English, and other education matters. He also swears in his emails, which makes me squirm in delight for some reason.
I don’t want to sound like I’m personal friends with these people. They’ve all been wise enough to keep my incessant hounding at bay. I also don’t want to present myself as some sort of tortured classroom revolutionary. My only point here is that I’m thankful for the kindness of educators. The community gathered around issues of progressive schooling and critical pedagogy has humbled me with its generosity and patience.
So thank you. If I make one fraction of the difference in someone’s life the way you all have helped me then this path will have been worth it.