Friday, June 13, 2014

Happy Birthday BATs!

By:  Dr. Mark Naison and Priscilla Sanstead – Co-founders of BATs

Priscilla Sanstead

I came to activism late. I'd always heard that eventually you find something in life that combines all the things you love with all the things you do pretty well. I'd also wanted to find that thing that helps people. The wake-up call to action for me came with the Seattle Map Test Revolt. To think that a school's media center would be closed to an entire school population for weeks just because of testing was mind boggling. I know how few kids have homes with books and computers with internet access.

In 2011 I had started a Facebook group helping people who didn't buy into the notion that college (and the associated debt) was the only way to success. It had over 500 people when I passed it on to someone else after about 2 years. I started two other education groups to connect people that now have a couple of hundred members. I had lots of grand ideas for groups IF a lot of people ever joined! I liked connecting people. I want everyone to know everyone else so they could feel stronger and empowered. The word "badass" hadn't yet crossed my path! According to Malcolm Gladwell I was a "People Connector". And there seemed to be millions in education reform activism who needed to know each other. How could they all meet in a big way and share stories and empower each other?

While devouring education activist blogs and joining groups on Facebook, of course I would meet amazing and passionate activists like Mark Naison. I asked Mark one day - June 14, 2013 - "when is someone finally going to do something", because other people were asking the same thing. He said, "Start a group". Mark and I thought we'd just see what would happen, but the market already seemed crowded with groups, and nothing really huge had resonated or captured people's imaginations. We had the usual expectations - several hundred people in a few months. Mark added Marla Kilfoyle right away, and we all started adding colleagues and friends, and by Saturday night we realized we ought to get a website. Marla had proposed a contest with Mark to find members, and by Sunday night there was no doubt we were riding a rocket ship. Everything became a blur!

I now got serious with plans for a Really Big Group - to get an infrastructure in place, facilitate growth, meet the needs of the members, and "people-connect". We had 20,000 members in 18 days! It was crazy-busy from the first few days. Fed up teachers told us they loved our name. Others - teachers, trolls, who knows - joined to tell us they hated it. Some people were added by well-meaning friends and they were quite indignant and didn't want to be a badass and told us how we'd never be successful. (Hey, we were still hearing that last week!)

This new group was active 20 hours a day. It was like the Wild West! Lots of emotion was overflowing onto us after the most grueling school year ever for many teachers. Posts went to over a thousand comments. Original posters of nice threads that turned contentious would get disgusted and delete their post. We'd be accused of deleting it. And their emotional fussing and troll-ish remarks would start all over again. Lots of people joined who really weren't badass, just asshats. And we really hadn't made any guidelines yet. But we could tell we were helping a lot of people, especially the New York teachers. They'd join and pour it all out and be heard. Then they'd feel their new badass power and join in helping us welcome the next teachers who were joining and sharing and being heard. Someone mentioned that their television had not been on in 2 weeks! This new group was so compelling that people couldn't walk away from us - they couldn't leave their computer screens. Hey, we couldn't either. We had never imagined such a thing as was this new busy, compassionate, explosive group.

Almost every day some killjoy would post that the group was 'just so negative'. So there was more emotion in response to that. I finally wrote a long comment on July 2, 2013 to one post that I then named "Thoughts on Negativity" and put in our Files section. What I was seeing was most definitely not negativity. We were witnessing hurting people pouring out their hearts to everyone. We'd suggest to the negativity-complainers to skip the threads they don't like or else try to be compassionate. It was so emotional for us on the other side of the screen to be facilitating this, but there was far and away more painful, raw emotion coming from our new members. People had found their "place" in BATs, a refuge, and they proudly became BATs and embraced the name and the power of this exploding group because it was what they had been waiting for. We weren't even calling ourselves BATs back then, but teachers now had a fierce new group, an identity, and were part of something larger than themselves. It looked like a group that was gong to take action. They had Hope! And we were humbled as talented people literally poured from the sky with ideas and time and motivation to help us grow in new ways and in new areas.

Here's the first part of my "Thoughts on Negativity - written when we were 19 days old:

"I see the negativity here as just SO much pent-up emotion. I don't have that much of a problem with it. Most of those people probably haven't had anyone to share (and dump?) all those feelings on that really, really understands. And with 20,000 people, well, even 1% who are unhappy write a lot of posts to go through. Skip the posts you don't like just like you avoid people you don't like.

My motto is always assume best intentions. Since there is no body language or voice inflection, what some may read a B%&$#-ing, others read as crying while sharing. People are in all kinds of places in their journey, (stages of grief, anyone?) and some can't handle the emotions of the people just coming to grips with the sadness of the loss of their beloved profession. Compassion is appreciated and valued here."

So Mark and I and Marla and all our new amazing, compassionate, volunteer badass admins could see from early on that what was needed in this group was both Action and Compassion - fight the reformers with one hand (fist) and put the other hand around the battered teachers and parents and their children who were shell-shocked from the test results out of New York state. The New York teachers who flocked to our group in huge numbers were our canaries in the coal mine. This high stake testing machine was what was coming for the rest of the country. A year of trying to teach with their hands tied and their students demoralized with incessant tests and assessments had left students, parents, and the teachers battered. What was suddenly happening to cause only 30% of the children to pass a test?

So. Where are we now a year later? We have over 48,000 BATs - teachers, parents, interested college students, and retirees. We have chapters in 50 states and DC. New York and Florida BATs have close to 2,000 members. BATs has a website, almost 11,000 followers on Twitter, 1,000 followes on our more recent exploding Pinterest page, our Youtube, the movie channel, dozens of BATs only secret groups, an outstanding blog, the spin-off groups BATs International, Canada Badass Teachers Association, New Zealand BATs, and a group inspired by us - Badass Moms Association. And the most amazing action of all - a national family-style celebration of the teaching profession and march around the DoE planned for July 28th.

What a year! Thank you, BATs for joining us on this improbable journey, for volunteering your time and brilliant ideas, for working long hours, for having faith that we could hold this rocket ship together to get where we are today. Thank you for sharing your painful, sweet, angry, empowering, shocking and/or hopeful stories with us. We all feel connected. We are all better for it. And we couldn't have done it without YOU! I love you, BATs! And I think we all love each other!


Love Letter to the BATS- On the First Anniversary of the Badass Teachers Association

Dr. Mark Naison

  I have been enraged by what has been happening to teachers and public education  for at least 7 years. My involvement began in  2007 with school grading and school closings in the Bronx, which drove the history projects I was doing out of the public schools, and victimized many of the great teachers I had worked with. It built up steam when Barack Obama and Arne Duncan unleashed Race to the Top which blamed teachers for the country’s education deficits and required that teachers be rated on the basis of student test scores

  I started writing and speaking about what was happening  and got a modest response  from teachers and education activists around the country. I spoke at several rallies in Washington, helped found the Dump Duncan group on Facebook, participated in several unsuccessful demonstrations against  school closings in NY and found my frustration building. I became a loose cannon, exploding in rage at dinner parties and family gatherings when anyone attacked teachers, losing  many friends in the process.  Everyone I thought I was a crazy man when I attacked what  Michael Bloomberg was doing in NYC and Barack Obama was doing throughout the US was a deadly blow to Democracy and Free Speech as well as Public Education

  Then came the great NY Test Revolt of the Spring of 2013. Parents up in arms about Common Core aligned tests, mostly in suburbs and rural area, began opting out their children in unprecedented numbers. I was invited to speak in several Long Island communities and in the process met some amazing parents and teachers who were as alarmed about what was happening in education policy as I was. One of these was a parent activist from Oklahoma named Priscilla Sanstead; another was a teacher and parent from Long Island named Marla Kilfoyle.  Even though I only knew them from email and Facebook, I found them to be kindred spirits, funny, creative, feisty, ready to fight back against the Billionaire Privatizers  and their supporters in both parties using social media as well as more traditional protest methods

 Then one day, when Priscilla and I were comparing notes, we decided, as an experiment to create a Facebook group called“The Badass Teachers Association.” We had  been working together  on an innovative site called  “ The Badass Parents Association” which had amassed a nice following in a few months and thought we might be able to attract a few hundred teachers  who were as angry as we were about the testing and scripting  and demonization of teachers in America’s public schools

 What happened next took us totally by surprise and changed the course of American education history. Priscilla launched the page  on June 14, 2013 at4:30 PM and we invited several people around the country we had worked with to join, one of whom was Marla. By Sunday night June 16, in part attracted by a recruiting contest Marla had started, we had nearly 2,000 people in the group.  No one had ever seen anything like it. Teachers all over the US were pouring into a group with a name that you could not easily mention in polite company, that seemed- at least to some-impertinent and unprofessional, and that connoted total frustration with normal paths of protest for an aggrieved group.

  I was utterly stunned by this phenomenon. I had never been part of any organization that had grown this fast, much less an organization that had been started with such low expectations. But when I thought about what was going on, I was deeply moved by what was happening. Clearly, I was not alone in my rage! All over the country, teachers were totally fed up with being the scapegoat for failed social policies and the punching bag for political leaders, media pundits and everyone trying to shape education policy. They were, like me, ready to be up front, in your face and outrageous, demanding that teachers have a place at the table or they would turn over the table!

 What I felt that weekend is was relief, gratitude, and determination. I was no longer alone. I was part of an army of teachers ready to fight back even if their colleagues, friends, relatives and union leaders thought they were crazy. I decided, along with Priscilla and Marla, to put everything I had into this movement to build it, nurture it and help it grow, not only because the country needed it, but because we all needed it!

 Every day since—and it is a year now-- has been filled with purpose, determination, but above all with LOVE. I have met so many great teachers and activists around the country through BATS whose courage and creativity and fighting spirit inspires me every day.  And  while my colleagues, relatives and what remain of my old friends still think I am crazy, they look at me with a new respect because I am part of a powerful national movement of teachers who will not let their voice be smothered and ignored.

BATS and the people in it have given me purpose, given me solidarity , and given me hope.

 Together, we go forward toward a better day

Happy Birthday BATS!!!

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