Friday, December 03, 2010

Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Orlando to take part in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, held in one of the convention centers in Disney World right before Thanksgiving. I had drafted a proposal for a resolution that would make clear NCTE's opposition to the Core Standards being generated and foisted on states that wanted the funding the feds could provide. I was unaware that my proposal was in opposition to an existing policy statement, and thus would not be considered as drafted. In the month between my drafting and submitted the proposal and my arrival at the conference, I received no word to that effect, so I went ahead and found someone to cover my writing class where the freshmen would try out the beginnings of a researched argument on their peers. I went ahead and spent money on plane tickets. I arranged to share a room off-Disney; that is, relatively affordable, not knowing the consequences of that decision. It meant that, although I wouldn't spend an inordinate amount of money on a tiny room not much bigger than a post office box, I would spend an inordinate amount of time on shuttles or Disney buses, and waiting in huge cold parking lots for said shuttles and buses.

I am not a wimp, so I survived the Disney transports, with their cheery-robot voices piped in. The cold parking lot on Thursday night was not so bad during the fireworks display around 9:30. I managed to find an easier (though more expensive) way to get to the convention center on Friday morning, where I learned, in the Resolution Committee meeting, that my proposal had been dumped and dumbed down into something bland and pointless. I then learned about Sense-of-the-House motions. I met my new best-friend-in-rebellion, Stephen, and new friends Joanne, Maja, and Susan, who had suggested I write the proposed resolution in the first place. I met Yvonne. We planned. We drafted and practiced our motion and our two-minute statements. We imagined the reaction. We had no idea what would actually happen later on in the public meeting, when we presented this motion.

It was good to meet these folks who have been having the same reaction both to the output from federal education officials and to the reaction of our professional organization, which we saw as pseudo-neutral, bordering on collaboration with the enemy. It was good to meet Maja, who also bumped heads, as I had, with the DuFours and their consulting firm. Her principal had worked with her to successfully ward off the narrowing effects of data-driven "learning" communities for her school building. Maja had written a book about her experience; I had written a policy analysis for one of my first doctoral courses. The support and like-mindedness of our little circle, plotting in any free corner of the convention center halls we could find, meant so much to me, after years of isolation in my classroom, trying unsuccessfully to argue against bad educational decisions and initiatives.

The 5:00 hour came, and we sat together at a round table from which we could just see the faces of the executive board. We sat through the rest of the meeting, with the usual agenda of financial and organizational information, with some interesting history about the founding of the NCTE, in protest against a policy of the National Education Association. Very interesting. Then the time came for sense-of-the-house motions. There was one other, which went first. Then Stephen stood at the microphone to read ours, and to give his two minute supportive speech. He was applauded. Then I stood up with my lined pad of paper, where I had drafted and revised, redrafted and revised again. Once I was standing, I could see the long section-of-a-ballroom from front to back, with the executive board members, once teachers like me, or maybe college professors, sitting on an elevated stage at one end. I could see the part of the floor filled with round tables where rank and file members sat scattered throughout. I could see the rows of chairs behind us and the empty space near the doors at the back.

I started speaking. Unlike many occasions when my passion is just behind my skin, my voice did not tremble as I spoke. In fact, I was able to slow myself down to think about speaking very slowly, for listeners to hear every word. As I reached the climax of this short two-minute speech, I added emphasis in my voice and paused dramatically to finish strong. Applause accompanied me back to my seat as my companions whispered their positive comments.

Our own groups gave all their speeches, but a great many others spoke as well. Some spoke to oppose the motion, though not too coherently. Most supported. Then, when the moment came and we were asked to hold up our yellow Voting tags, I held mine up and waited, holding my breath.

The room was filled with positive votes. Those who opposed us raised just a sprinkling of the yellow tags. Our motion had passed. I was incredulous.

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