In her 14 June 2015 email update about her blog, Susan Ohanian offered an opening statement:
When I started this website of resistance 13 years ago, I posted a lot of outrage, outrage I tried to buttress with research. Of late, I’ve cut way back because I feel there’s far too much jabber filling the air–too much rage and not enough explanation. Everybody blogs. Nobody reads. I figure whatever I might say just gets lost in the cacophony so I’ve turned my efforts elsewhere. Right now I’m working on a big project that I hope will startle you with originality. At the very least, it won’t be part of the chorus.
I’m not abandoning the site–just cutting back on its size.
Well before the education reform debate blossomed on social media, Ohanian was dissecting and challenging the most recent cycle of high-stakes accountability—from the perspective of a classroom teacher.
I very much feel compassion for Ohanian’s concerns, having begun writing against accountability and specifically high-stakes testing in the 1990s, also as a classroom teacher. Once I moved to higher education in 2002, my access to public work was significantly expanded so my public commentaries reach back about as long as Ohanian’s (although my move to blogging is about half that span).
The powerful refrain—”Everybody blogs. Nobody reads”—resonates, I think, because it touches on how social media has in many ways had the opposite effect than its great promise: Instead of building solidarity, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest have allowed factions to develop and has reduced much of the vibrant and important discourse to be subsumed by the great failure of social media—the cult of personality.
The online world of public debate about education and education reform has included the ugliest part of social media—anonymous vitriol—but it has also, for me, created a much more troubling dynamic. On more than one occasion, I have been refuted and attacked (based on false assumptions) by those with whom I share solidarity.
It is all too easy, then, for those of us who share the same mission to turn on each other while those who are running the education reform machine sit by mostly untouched.
In fact, that is what the minority in power thrive on—divide and conquer.
Part of my advocacy includes making a case for the importance of workers so I often ask people to consider if all service workers in the U.S. (mostly poorly paid and many part-time without benefits including the horribly under-paid wait staff) simply did not work tomorrow, how would that compare in impact to if all the CEOs did not go to work tomorrow?
And how does that impact expose real value to society versus how we compensate work in the U.S.?
One wait staff compared to one billionaire is a tale of supreme inequity.
Without solidarity, without a moral grounding among those who still may disagree, each of us is ripe for the sort of resignation that happens in isolation and powerlessness.
Each time I post on Common Core and the views increase and then I post on race and the views drop, I contemplate simply walking away from trying to make a difference.
The reason I have shifted from traditional scholarship and toward public work stems from the echo chamber that is scholarship where, to paraphrase Ohanian, everybody publishes, but nobody reads.
Social justice and educational equity are, simply put, the defining goals of a free people, and it seems these are the anchors for a solidarity that could bring about change.
Partisan politics, the cult of personality, building a brand, blogging and not reading/talking but not listening—these, however, are the antidotes to solidarity, and the fuel of the status quo of inequity that poisons our society and our schools.
Without solidarity, each of us is destined to resignation, failing to hold hands and realize our collective power against the few who can afford simply to wait us out.
We are a people, I fear, tragically trapped in individual ownership and competition, denying the essential communal nature of being fully human.
Dedicating the self to the public good is the ultimate act of selfishness. Solidarity is not, then, self-sacrifice, but self-preservation.
We have passion (Ohanian’s “rage”) and we have explanations, but we are doomed by a poverty of solidarity in our pursuit of social and educational equity.