Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Rise Up: On Education, Activism, and Hope

Betsy's DeVos's confirmation as secretary of education hits hard. Every teacher I know--every single teacher, regardless of political party or religious belief--is aghast. DeVos's rise contradicts everything they stand for, everything they strive for. They, who have dedicated their lives to gaining knowledge, gaining skills, gaining competency--both within themselves and for their students--will now be ruled by a woman who has no knowledge, no skills, no competency. The moment is surreal.

Yesterday, after Pence broke the Senate tie and DeVos was confirmed, I posted this on my Facebook page:
We, at the Frost Place Conference for Poetry and Teaching, pledge to uphold the honor of teachers and students from all walks of life, from all regions of our nation, from all developmental backgrounds. We pledge to use poetry as a portal into intellectual, emotional, moral, creative, collegial, and community achievement. Not only do we understand the difference between growth and proficiency, but we've also spent our entire careers as guerilla art warriors. Plus, we know how to chase a bear out of a classroom. DeVos doesn't have a chance against us.
I stand by those words. Because poetry has long been marginalized in the curriculum, poet-teachers know all about resistance. We slip poems into places where no one expects them. We quietly give students the skills to think for themselves. We model the value of humane letters, of civil engagement, of intelligence as a version of altruism, of precision and focus. We get this done behind the principal's back and in front of the principal's face. We do it without a budget and without fanfare. We do it with trumpets and drums. We cannot be silenced.

This will be an activist summer at the Frost Place. How could it be otherwise? I am always looking to draw many people, from many disciplines, to the Conference on Poetry and Teaching, but the need is urgent this year. Yes, come if you are a teacher. But, yes, also come if you are a rogue civil servant. Come if you are a school board member. Come if you are a writer who needs to find a way to speak with the friends and strangers around you. Come if you are a liberal who works in a conservative community. Come if you are a conservative who cares deeply about the poor and the marginalized. Come if you work in a hospital, in a homeless shelter, in an elite graduate program, in a law office. We must find each other. Community and conversation reinforce hope, and hope is essential to our common mission. This nation cannot devolve into a land of oligarchs and the oppressed. We will not leave our youth in despair.


David (n of 49) said...

Calls to the barricades don't get much better than that, Dawn. "Aux arts, citoyens!"

Ruth said...

I have sent this to a retired teacher who is now a children's library aide. She is definitely interest in coming, but worried that she wasn't still teaching.

Dawn Potter said...

Yes! We need everyone!