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Teachers Inject Their Own Message Into Union-Busters’ Twitter Campaign

In the last year, the national education debate has been occupied by economists, billionaires, hedge-fund managers, corporate columnists and party-politicians –indeed, it seems like the further a person is from the classroom, the more weight his opinion carries.

In the last year, the national education debate has been occupied by economists, billionaires, hedge-fund managers, corporate columnists and party-politicians –indeed, it seems like the further a person is from the classroom, the more weight his opinion carries.

Call it the Gates Paradox – the power of your voice in the “education reform” debate is proportional to the distance from the classroom, multiplied by the amount of money you earn. Needless to say, public school teachers – especially veterans – score very low on this test.

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Everyone seems to get a voice on how students should be taught but the teachers themselves, who have been framed as lazy, unmotivated, self-interested slobs in desperate need of discipline from the Free Market. And in the rare moments real public schools teachers are given the microphone, they might well be fronts for Astroturf organizations like TeachPlus, non-profits underwritten by Wall Street, informed by neo-conservative economic values, and intended to undermine unions and privatize education.

Not only have corporations occupied the voices heard in the education debate, but they also have a powerful monopoly on the language we use, as Orwellian business terms – productivity (larger classes, less teachers),efficiency (less money for public schools), accountability (more high stakes standardized tests), flexibility (dismantling of unions) – become the official lexicon of status quo, pushing out real teaching terms like learning, andgrowth.

And thus, when StudentsFirst – corporate reform superstar Michelle Rhee’s union-busting non-profit – posted a “six word essay” contest to “describe what it means to be a great teacher,” (with an iPad 2 as a prize), real public school teachers and critics of the corporate reform movement let loose on Twitter, one of the only forums left open to them, crafting witty, heartfelt, and heartbreaking “essays” under #sixwordessays (See some of my favorites below). While many well-meaning teachers, students, parents and education advocates will be pulled in by StudentsFirst’s clever marketing ploy – which automatically enrolls those who enter the contests as supporters of the organization – the Twitivism (Twitter activism) is a heartwarming exercise in dissent.

More than this, though, StudentsFirst has ironically provided its critics a necessary education in marketing – which, alas, most of us have done a poor job of doing. To refute the slick corporate packaging of organizations like StudentsFirst, we tend to write long, nuanced essays filled with facts, with documentation, with analysis and evaluation, all of which tends to be read only by those already in know. The corporate reformers, conversely, don’t engage in academic prose, nor rely on facts – rather, they have constructed a synergized multimedia complex, with films, television programs, and contests, engaging the public with memorable catchphrases, official logos, polished brands, simple talking points, and an emotional storyline – like any successful sales campaign.

#sixwordessay, as the hash tag is represented on Twitter, has brought out our inner marketers, pushing us to simplify and clarify our message, and encouraging us to seek our own ways of communicating our values; the playful perversion of Rhee’s contest has a created a sort of organic, people-powered think tank, by which we are crafting more effective and engaging ways to tell our story to the public at large, to reclaim our rightful place in the education debate.

Here are some of our best efforts to reverse the Gates Paradox, and to put public teachers’ voices at the center of the debate, where they belong:

  • Real teachers everywhere reject Rhee’s reforms (@march4teachers)
  • Children are more than test scores (@DianeRavitch)
  • Value the arts, music, culture? Tough! (@GetUpStandUp2)
  • Students poor? Then fire the teacher. (@Caroline94127)
  • Poverty, dysfunctional families? Standardize and test! (@march4teachers)
  • Teachers did not ruin the economy (@Angie_Sullivan1)
  • Education? I do test prep, mostly (@tfteacher)
  • Race To The Top. Then jump (@garyrubinstein)
  • Privatizing public education is so wrong (@DianeRavitch)
  • We’re for school choice–multiple choice (@LS4C1)
  • “Standardized test scores: Instruments of shame.” (@jmvarner)
  • Great teachers don’t teach the test (@adambessie)
  • Teachers are expensive, let’s hire interns #TFA (@adambessie)
  • Teaching for all, not for profit (@codyjohk)
  • Real teachers reject CEOs playing school (@johnkuhntx)
  • Fire teachers, replace them with iPads (@adambessie)
  • Running schools like businesses is ridiculous (@JaneBalvanz)
  • Corporations are not teachers. People are. (@RossHancockFL)
  • Corporate “reform” movement equals educational apartheid. (@damian613)
  • No education without taxation. Word (@Teacheronthemic)
  • When will they listen to teachers? (@MoniThorn)
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