Sunday, September 29, 2013

When anger and hurt feelings lead to dialogue

Something interesting happened today. I was perusing my Facebook feed when I came across this YouTube clip on Upworthy.  Dr. Brene Brown went on the Oprah network and appears to be telling the world that pretty much every teacher in America shames/humiliates their students. And Oprah didn't challenge her. My initial reaction to this video was beyond offended. It was yet another example of how the public narrative of teacher bashing continues.

But them something extraordinary happened. Many teachers expressed their anger and frustration on Twitter, to which I will fully admit I instigated a great deal of the rancor, but then Brene Brown herself decided to engage in a civilized dialogue with all of us and clarified her meaning, which was not elaborated properly in that short video clip.

Did Brown use a really poor example in the above clip? Absolutely. (Because honestly, I know of absolutely no teacher who would ever call a child stupid). But her point about shame was not meant to single out teachers. Shame is pervasive in life -- even if we don't intend it. Perhaps I don't agree with everything she clarified and am still trying to process it all, but here's what I appreciate about today's turn of events: Brown chose to engage rather than ignore. Instead of discounting teacher frustration like so many "higher ups" in education do these days, Brown addressed them head on in a dignified, civilized manner. She didn't talk around the issue or give a camera-ready fake answer. She was real.

And while I'm satisfied with how this situation was resolved today, I am still frustrated. I'm frustrated because this is not how most educational dialogues go down. If people like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, and yes, Oprah, would address these criticisms head on and hear the concerns of REAL teachers, maybe some real good could happen in education. Instead, we have nothing but top-down reforms and legislation that prevent teachers from being able to teach because they're too busy doing test prep. And we also have TV networks doing entire "educational" summits with nary a classroom teacher to be found. So yes, I am pleased and grateful that Brene Brown was kind enough to engage with her critics in the trenches so to speak. I just wish more educational leaders would follow her lead.

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