Imagine this! Thousands of teachers, children, and other supporters of public education are at the plaza in front of the Department of Education in Washington DC. In the center of the crowd is a table. It is our table. It is the table around which we sit in order to make policy decisions about the futures of our teachers, students, schools, and communities. Silence spreads throughout the larger crowd so that all may hear what is discussed at the table; those seated at the table are teachers, students, community members, and more.
“This is our table,” says a ten year old who has traveled to Washington DC for the first time in her life. “This is the table where I am heard, my friends are heard, and the voices of my community are heard.” The crowd surrounding the table erupts into applause, whistling, and shouts of support. “In my school,” she continues, “the teachers listen to us and develop curriculum that reflects who I am, where I come from, and what I want to know. In my school, families are welcome, my family’s language is welcome, and our beliefs are honored.” Once again the crowd rejoices in a voice from the table that tells the truth. Other voices are heard, too. Passionate, caring, and informed voices of parents, teachers, teacher educators, and the many diverse communities that constitute the richness and uniqueness of every classroom and school.
Now imagine a member of the crowd, who happened to turn towards the building in front of which we stand, and noticed the Secretary of Education at a window looking down. “Mira!” she shouts. The crowd’s attention is turned towards the building. Someone in the crowd has a bullhorn and addresses Mr. Duncan, saying, “We don’t want a seat at your table! Take a seat at our table! Listen to us!” The crowd absorbs those last two commands and initiates a chant, in unison, thousands of voices rising into the April sky in Washington DC.
“Take a seat at our table! Listen to us!” And, as if by some miraculous power, the crowd reaches a group consciousness of the significance of this moment. For too many years, we have been offered seats at the table inside that building, only to have our voices and thoughts dismissed. For too many years our ideas have been marginalized. For too many years, perfunctory shakes of the head by those insiders saying, “Of course we understand,” and “How can we help make things better” have falsely led us to believe we were heard. But we weren’t. Today, this crowd realizes, it is time for us to take ownership of this table. It is time for them to request a seat at our table, a table at which their lies and excuses will not be tolerated.
“Take a seat at our table! Listen to us!”
And to take this fantasy to its climax, I offer this: Stepping away from the window, looking around at his associate and assistant secretaries, Mr. Duncan realizes it’s over. The sham is over. It’s ended. As news of the table scenario goes viral, it becomes clear that a nation of teachers, children, and an informed public have seen this emperor as completely naked. We know the work we need to do to live the hope and promise of public education. He needs to go find another job.
That’s why I’m coming to DC in April. To raise my voice. To be in the presence of the table that truly matters. To reclaim (or perhaps claim for the first time) the possibilities of what can and should happen in public schools and in a country that is truly democratic.
- Rick Meyer
Rick Meyer is a professor at the University of New Mexico where he teaches courses in reading process, family literacy research, and writing. He taught young children for almost twenty years before earning his doctorate at the University of Arizona. Rick is committed to progressive literacy practices and works to help children, teachers, and families understand the importance of identity, relationships, power, and agency in every literacy activity in which they engage. Rick has authored nine books (most recently “Reclaiming Reading”), many articles, and many chapters. He is the immediate past president of the Center for the Expansion of Language and Thinking (CELT) and current president of the Whole Language Umbrella (WLU). WLU is the only worldwide progressive literacy organization; WLU holds a yearly conference at which educators and supporters of public education advocate, share strategies, and plan actions. Rick is also an active member of the Latino Education Task Force in New Mexico and secretary of a parent activist group. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools march, rally, conference, and congress held in summer 2011. Rick is also the father of two beautiful children and grandfather of three. Rick will be speaking on Saturday, April 6th, at 12:30 p.m. His presentation title is Hijacked: The Corporate Take Over of Literacy Learning in Our Schools.