What if: How the Badass Teachers Started a Twitter Storm
By Dr. Yohuru Williams
Bronx ESL teacher Aixa Rodriguez was busy grading on December 30th when she came across a tweet from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “What if every district," the secretary asked, “committed both to identifying what made their 5 best schools successful & providing those opps to all their students?”
It was no different from hundreds of tweets and comments the Secretary of Education has made over the course of his tenure advancing the cause of corporate education reform under the guise of thoughtful reflection on the future of the nation’s schools. His twitter inquiry irritated Rodriguez, who works in a high poverty district where the shell game of corporate education reform and high stakes testing has had a terrible impact. She also counts herself as an education activist and is a member, as well as on the Leadership Team, of the Badass Teachers Association, a Facebook group of 53,000 members slowly but surely making the transition into something much greater. “When I saw the secretary’s tweet,” she recalled in a phone interview Friday, “I was upset.” “It is difficult not to be frustrated by the narrative of failure constantly promoted by the Secretary while many of us continue to labor in schools that remain woefully underfunded." Rodriguez explained.
In response to Duncan’s tweet, Rodriguez dashed off a tweet of her own using the hashtag #whatif and #edequity
“@arneduncan #WhatIf my ESL classroom wasn't a converted office with a dry erase sticker instead of a board? @BadassTeachersA #edequity.
She simultaneously signed on to the social media pages run by the BATS, and called for a swarm—the BATS term for a social media barrage. Within minutes, the twitter sphere was ablaze with tweets to Sec. Duncan from BATS with their own “What if” questions. One of these tweeted the burgeoning campaign to Network for Public Education President and Education Historian Diane Ravitch who promptly blogged, and tweeted, calling on teachers to give Duncan a “What If.” For six days, the hashtag continued to generate responses including trending for two days on the popular social media site as parents, teachers, and students posed questions to the secretary on a variety of issues but most centrally on the need of the DOE to address poverty, which is one of the cornerstones of the BATS program. A well-funded system of public education requires a substantive discussion of poverty and inequality in America. It is a conversation Secretary Arne Duncan seems comfortable having in the abstract. He has not been so forthcoming however, in addressing the ways in which the corporate education reform agenda continues to promote poverty and inequality in the nation’s schools.
In the wake of the Grand Jury’s decision in the killing of Ferguson teen Michael Brown Duncan noted, “The division along educational opportunity being based on where you live, your zip code, is huge. The inequities are huge.” Yet, the DOE has pursued polices that have done more to perpetuate this inequality than alleviate it. The social media campaign, Aixa Rodriguez acknowledged in an interview for this article, is just one manifestation of the BATS commitment to holding the education deformers accountable whenever and wherever they choose to strike. “The Secretary needs to know that BATs mean business,” she explained. “The days of the DOE and the Ed Deformers controlling the narrative are over. We will make our voices heard.”