Thursday, July 4, 2013

When Reason Doesn’t Work: Another Explanation for “The Rise of the BATs"

Originally posted on With a Brooklyn Accent July 3, 2013

Many people have criticized the "Badass Teachers Association" for its unprofessional sounding name and in your face image, but the meteoric rise of this group didn't come out of nowhere. All over the country educators have faced policies imposed from above by education officials-political appointees all- which violate their best practices and common sense, but have had no success whatsoever modifying these policies by writing position papers, mounting petition drives or testifying before the few open forums where such policies are discussed

Let's use New York State as an example. During the last year, the Governor, the Legislature, and the State Education Department have imposed on school districts throughout the state protocols for teacher evaluation that are expensive, complicated, time consuming, unfair, and in the judgment of most principals in the state, completely unworkable. Some of the best principals in the state organized to challenge the new system. They wrote an extensive, well researched critique of the policies, circulated a principals letter with thousands of signatures, got even more signatures on a parents letter, and tried to testify at allegedly "open hearings" held by the state's "Education Reform Commission," but found themselves marginalized and rebuffed. The policies have been literally rammed down the throat of school districts by the Governor, who now have to cope with massive demoralization of teachers and administrators, the smothering of creative pedagogy in favor of "teaching to the test" and the cancellation of beloved art, music and sports programs to pay for the unfunded mandates the new system requires.

This misapplication and intensification of high stakes testing provoked a huge statewide test revolt organized by parents, concentrated in Long Island, the Hudson Valley and Western New York, as well as a broad based movement against Common Core Standards, but is it any wonder that teachers, whose union leaders reluctantly supported the plan, are also rising up?

Teachers and children's lives are being destroyed every day in New York State and some teachers decided that maybe a new, more confrontational style was required to deal with the arrogance of policy makers and the astro turf, billionaire supported education policy groups behind the new policies. So Badass Teachers Association was born, fueled by that rage and disappointment.

That is touched a chord with teachers throughout the nation, and the world, says something about how much concentrated power, and concentrated wealth, has undermined even the the pretense of democratic discussion regarding education policies.

Maybe it's time to fight fire with fire.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason, the author of this post thinks that fighting corporate reform effectively requires the use of the term "Baddass." The logic doesn't follow AT ALL.

    You can opt ouf of testing, protest, call politicians on their lies, speak with strong emotion at board meetings, organize with parents, and do all the other things this group is doing without calling yourself "Badass."

    Effective political action and effectively managing your political image are different pieces of the puzzle.

    Despite my support for the group and its actions, I strongly disagree with the name.

    The first time I heard about it was from a colleague, who said something to the effect of: "Have you heard of the Badass Teachers? I don't know who they are or what they do, but it doesn't sound like anything I'd want to be a part of."

    When I heard about it, I thought, "Nope. Doesn't sound like something I'd want to be a part of either."

    The first thing my mom said when she heard about it was, "Oh please, people. Grow up. Get out of high school."

    Then I went and researched them and found that all these people I respect are a part of the group. So I joined.

    But I DO NOT see myself leading an opt-out of test meeting, or calling a state representative (as I've done many times in the past) and telling them that I am a Badass teacher.

    It could come off as a lot of things that I don't want: arrogant, juvenile, mean-tempered, unruly, uncooperative.

    And with parents, that's a long conversation about whether someone who calls themselves a "Badass" is fit to teach their kids.

    It may not be right, but it's the way it is.

    Moreover, even when taken the way it's intended by the group, teachers are NOT Badasses.

    By and large, we don't ride Harley's with long hair and leather jackets; we don't save the world from end-of-the-world doomsday scenarios; we don't ostentatiously saunter through the hallways impressing all the students and parents.

    So even when you think of the ways badass is used positively in our culture, teachers just don't match up.

    You COULD say teachers are dedicated, caring, empathetic, intelligent, hard-working, fed-up with policy, overburdened, abused, understanding, under-appreciated, passionate, steadfast, unyielding, compassionate, educated, etc...

    But Badass? Really?

    It seems like the audience considered when choosing the name was ourselves. We want to think of ourselves as badasses, but that's most definitely NOT the audience we should be considering in this public relations battle.

    I have no idea why we would use that as our epithet, except for to stand out - to call attention to ourselves.

    And if that's its purpose, then we BETTER make sure that we're righteous in our actions, and in our words.

    In comment threads on Facebook, it's really bringing out the worst in some people. One comment read something like, "I'm so proud to be a badass teacher. So much better than all those pansy ass teachers who won't stand up to anyone."

    That comment was followed by remarks containing other words that are embarrassing to see teachers in public use.

    I think the name and comments that follow have either encouraged or brought out a "you're with us or against us" attitude. This attitude, and the anger that comes out in the name-calling, will serve only as ways to vent our anger, not as means of effecting change.

    I still strongly believe the name should change.


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