I’ve always believed that the ability to work with bad news is a test of character. When you’re dealt a situation not to your liking, the best thing to do is focus on solutions. This past weekend while I was on Capitol Hill talking with legislators on behalf of the National Writing Project, my character was given a #2 pencil and set at a desk alone.
Meeting with the legislative aides and Congressmen was as exciting as it was frustrating. I feel as though the ears were open in DC, but the legs were unable to take related direction from the brains. I’m no professional lobbyist, but I felt I was missing some piece of truly vital information required to make full connection with the legislators.
Should I need a JD or an MPA to feel like I can start a productive dialogue with my own representatives in Washington? Should I feel cheated by what someone assures me is a pragmatic approach to our problem? I don’t have an intimate knowledge of how policy–or sausage–is made, but I can attest to feeling somewhat shut out.
I passed on letters from my students to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II of Kansas City’s Fifth District, imploring him to support schools focused on learning and care for each student. I spoke about how we can support the professionalization of teaching, cultivate talent of those within the force, and then keep dedicated teachers in hard-to-staff schools like my own.
As an oddly-shaped political football, education is being kicked around by both parties, but neither seems to want to run it to the end zone. We kept saying, “we need a champion, that champion could be you,” but no one seemed to think it was their role. They’d say:
We like what you’re doing.
What you’re doing is vital to our students.
You have strong data to back up your claims.
You’re even inexpensive.
Forget it, we’re not just “inexpensive” or “cost-effective,” the National Writing Project and many of the other earmarked and authorized programs cut by Congress last month are pieces of legislation sitting on the top of the bargain bin under flashing red “SALE!” lights. “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” must mean something different to this Congress. If you don’t support these programs, they will GO away. After they do, you’ll be scurrying around in a year or so asking “why isn’t there a nationwide effort to support the teaching of writing?”
We aren’t a cost, an expenditure, or a burden; we are an investment in infrastructure. We don’t ask for handouts in order to buy fish; we ask for the time and resources so we can teach others to fish and feed themselves, and we’ve done it well for decades while always encouraging innovation and growth.
Inervess Research even alluded to a certain literacy promoting professional organization as the most cost-effective of almost any federal program, not just in education, but ever.
Cutting programs with such support, history, and results as the NWP is not just disheartening to teachers and their students, it is a physical blow to our democracy’s integrity. It shakes my confidence in our leadership at every level. If teachers, parents, and students can’t believe that the government will keep its promises to promote such rich and widespread investments which are accountable and autonomous, what on earth will they believe?