Community Education

Fight On Chicago Teachers!

IMG_0291Recently, I had the good fortune of spending time with teachers from Chicago Public Schools. In many ways, I felt solidarity with them and gratitude that after a rough year, surviving 50 school closings, budget issues, and insecurity about the future of Chicago’s commitment to its teachers and unions, 30 teachers came out to a weekend training jazzed and ready to learn. I was in town to lead training, or in eduspeak “professional development”, on behalf of Little Kids Rock, an awesome nonprofit that supports music education in our schools. In stark contrast to the fun we had at our workshop, check out this video of a recent professional development for Chicago Public School Teachers:

Times have been tough indeed for teachers in Chicago and with stakes so high, how is it that Chicago Public Schools, or Atlanta Public Schools, or any school system in our country continue to stay the current course? Why are we not addressing the need for sustainable systemic change?

I spoke with one teacher who had recently lost her job after her school closed. She has been on interviews and hasn’t been able to find work.  She confided that she felt that Chicago Public Schools was deliberately trying to weed out older, veteran teachers; a sentiment expressed privately by several teachers over the weekend. Despite this, she attended the training because of her passion for teaching music and her desire to learn new methods and strategies. A friend of mine expressed exasperation when asked about this sentiment; sharing a real concern for her career – “I have taught for twenty years; if I lose my job, I have to find another career”; this coming from a teacher who is so passionate that she took to the streets with her peers and maintained a picket line to give voice to the real concerns of hardworking teachers in Chicago.

Despite the risks of speaking out, teachers in Chicago continue to do so. At Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy, teachers are refusing to administer the annual state examination ISAT even while the district threatens their jobs and certification. Check out this article:

Seeing committed passionate teachers working through the weekend despite their concerns inspired me but whether real or perceived, I observed teachers feeling that they are under attack, that they are not valued by their city, and that current educational policy is decreasing their ability to teach effectively. When speaking with my friend, she shared that the prospect of being afraid and stressed out about increasing demands for student achievement, academic growth, and mandatory assessment for students (they are Kindergartners!) was too much and they she has chosen the alternative; to be unconcerned with the demands of the state and pressure from district and teach what she knows as an experienced professional to be effective for her students. If she takes a hit on her evaluations, so be it. For her, the goal now is to create an environment that is safe, joyful, creative, and positive, where she can focus on teaching because she created a classroom where students can be encouraged, celebrated, and honored.

Education for this teacher is being co-opted by corporate profit, the common core an extension of Pearson’s growing bottom line. To her, education is about people, not pennies, relationships, not profit. If teachers are aware of possible educational manipulation by publishers and test services, how is it that administrators and legislators are not? Where are the teacher’s advocates? If an administrator is truly concerned about creating a positive learning environment and having effective teachers, wouldn’t they want to protect their teachers, get their input; preserve the rituals, traditions, and best practices born out of experience and time?

I do know this, it is time for teachers to stand up and work together; to change the educational narrative. I learned that there are great teachers doing good work in Chicago and I know there are great teachers in Atlanta as well! We here too little of the success of the classroom and far too much of the problems; and this is what legislators are focused on! We need to illuminate the bright spots, tell the good stories, and take back our curricula and schools; perhaps then the politicians will reflect the will of their constituents; people like you and me.

Community Education Punk Rock

Why Punk Rock?

Bulletin BoardIn my previous post, I mentioned that teaching is one the most punk rock things I could do; but why punk rock? Why as a point of reference and self identification should I choose such a penetrating and specific label to connect my love of teaching to community?

The punk rock I am talking about is not concerned with image and ought tos. We are not talking about the Sex Pistols or the Clash. We are talking about the sustained attitude of the DIY (do it yourself) ethos of American punk rock and hardcore over the last 40 years. The punk rock I was exposed to in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Washington D.C., and Atlanta was grounded in a political awareness of the times (80’s & 90’s), the possibility of authentic sustainable community, and a determination to break new ground.

Yes, many of us grew up and we have different views about the world, the role of government, community, leadership, economics, and education but this vital energy, this spirit of change and can do, affected many of us before we entered institution and career and we would do well to remember how much we wanted to help the world!

I see punk rock intersecting education in the following ways:

  • Teaching and embracing a DIY ethos, a self responsibility for learning and creating. As Mike watt would say Jam Econo!
  • Resisting the increasing commercialization of the field of education and the false analogy of education to business and its subsequent organizational models.
  • Connecting the politicians and policy makers to the classroom and putting positive pressure on them to make compassionate and innovate decisions that are well informed from a broad base of constituents and are unique and appropriate for their situations.
  • Creating radical and vibrant educational spaces that encourage joy, creativity, and innovation.
  • Resisting the over quantification of education and the boxing in of teachers with subjective metrics.
  • Organizing, communicating, and connecting with one another so that we may be stronger together than we are on our own!

Together we can create positive change and the time is now to reclaim our schools. I believe the solutions are really in each of us, especially the teachers, the majority of whom are beyond dedicated and have been in the trenches long enough to know what is needed.

It is important to note that I do not want our conversations here to be just about punk rock (or for myself to be only defined as punk) but rather we can use the shared cultural wisdom of the ethos of punk rock to re-energize and revitalize the discussion of education in our country and particularly what to do about it.

We have a responsibility to redirect the educational conversation in our country back to what is going right and how we can make improvements rather than to echo the constant critique of media, corporate interests, and the mandates of the state. We all come from many backgrounds, cultures, and have different points of view but by embracing one another and working together we can make a difference!

Let me know what you all think and chime in!

Until next time,



In doing research for this blog I got wonderfully distracted by the following:

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991

Our Band Could Be Your Life is a well written look at influential bands from ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Anyone growing up then and listening to the bands in this book would probably enjoy it.

Edupunk as coined by Jim Groom. The term itself is debatable, as Groom will admit, but the concept around it is spot on. While primarily a higher education movement, many of the points raised by Groom and his peers are applicable to those of us in K-12 education.

Here is a good conversation between Jim Groom and Gardner Campell and the idea of a bill of rights (for teachers!) has been on my mind a lot.

Jim Groom talking about what is Punk Rock – Open ed – to open resources for the world on the web not as a repository or closed space

Jim Groom”s keynote for open ed conference 2011

Steve Wheeler

I also found this link showing open ed resources:

Community Education Punk Rock

Lighting a fire in the mind, a stirring in the soul!

White Board

“Drink deep, it’s just a taste, and it might not come this way again. I believe in moments, transparent moment, moments in grace when you’ve got to stake your faith.” Guy Picciotto singing Drink Deep” by Rites of Spring

To me, Punk Rock is about being educated. Perhaps not on the surface to some, but when you dig in, challenging the status quo is about claiming difference and when you embrace the difference you’ve become, you have to think it through at some point. The music, the people, the protests were all initiations for examining life, for critical reflection, for asking difficult questions. Searching that ultimately lead me into the classroom.

Scott Cheshire, author of the forthcoming novel High as the Horses’ Bridles, recently shared with me a story about seeing Mike Watt perform once: “This was 1997, at The Point, for the Engine Room record (which is still a mind blow of a record), and before the show started he had Coltrane’s Sun Ship playing over the PA and I asked myself, ‘What is this? This is crazier and more punk rock than anything I’ve ever heard.’ Then the show starts and it’s amazing and I’m there with my brother and friends, and I actually remember telling myself that I was so happy to be in a room full of people, and some who I loved, and when it was over, Watt told the whole audience (as he often does): Go home and read as many books as you can, and listen to as many records as you can, and then start a band, or make a painting, or write a book.”

To me this is what Punk Rock is all about. Not just the bands, but about lighting a fire in the mind and a stirring in the soul, creating the conditions that spark creativity, authenticity, and expression. After many trials and journeys, I ended up in the classroom, to do just this, inspire and educate.

The beginning for me was here:  Friday nights in Richmond, VA in the early 90s skating in the 7-11 parking lot, getting coffee at the Village, heading down Grace Street to see what was going on at the Avail house, or taking in a show at the Metro or Twisters. Many of us were idealistic, fired up, and passionate. Richmond is a college town, home of Virginia Commonwealth University, a confluence of ideas and people.

For me, that was a period of change, growth, and becoming. I was embraced by a community of caring passionate folks that instilled in me a sense of curiosity, compassion, and depth of feeling towards the world at large. From the kitchens of Blue Point Seafood, to the streets of the Fan, the campus of VCU and Shockoe Bottom, I learned to be open to new ideas, to be real, and to share what I know.

I believe this scene, this time of punk rock and Richmond hardcore, created the conditions that ultimately led me to becoming a teacher. I didn’t take the straight path; I wasn’t even sure then if I would go to college. All I knew at that point in my life was that I wanted to be in a band.

First Five ThruFortunately, I met four other guys who shared a passion for music and knowledge. They taught me about Fugazi, Rites of Spring, Public Enemy, Parliament/Funkadelic, and so many other wonderful groups. Essentially the music we listened to and created (our band was called First 5 Thru) was a study in authentic creative self expression and the role of justice in our culture and society. Big ideas!

The blogs that I will write will explore this story, of how becoming a teacher was ultimately the most punk rock thing I could do. I hope to share not just my story, but the stories of those in the trenches with me, folks I have met along the way, and what I see as the challenges and possibilities of education in our country. I hope you all will keep reading and chime in. Lastly, but of much importance, I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of India Mara Stanley, who will be my guide and mentor as I write.

Here are links (following flow of blog):

Folks Interested in the band Rites of Spring or Fugazi should check out Dischord Records

“Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution” Documentary

Similarly, here in Atlanta, we have a record label which I am proudly associated with that has documented the underground rock and punk rock scene in Atlanta.

Moodswing Records:

Scott Chesire, Author

MIke Watt of the Minutemen, punk rock legend, has a website as well as a radio program Watt from Pedro

Interestingly – the paragraph about Richmond is captured musically in a song by my current band the expats

The song is called Back In ’86 and can be heard here

The Richmond VA Punk Scene 70-90s Facebook site

My first band First 5 Thru has recordings on Soundcloud: