Like so many others, Rethinking Schools editors awoke Wednesday morning, November 3, to the discouraging prospect of four more years. Four more years of war. Four more years of hostility to public schools. Four more years of attacks on civil rights, women's rights, workers' rights, the environment, and social programs of all kinds. Four more years of homophobia, fear-mongering, and proselytizing.
The danger is that in the face of such enormous power wielded by the president of the United States, we may forget the enormous power that we also wield. Yes, George W. Bush has been elected president for another four years, but his power is not absolute, and especially in the arena of education we have tremendous opportunities to effect change.
Educators often draw a distinction between our classrooms and "real life." But classrooms are real life. Students really learn in classrooms, they really grow, they really change. Given the enormity of injustice throughout the world, including injustice sponsored by the current administration, teachers need to find new ways to encourage student questioning. We can create communities of conscience and critique. The critical habits of mind that we nurture in our classrooms can stay with students long after they've left school. In fact, many Rethinking Schools editors began a lifelong commitment to social justice during similarly grim times: the Nixon administration's war on Vietnam, Reagan's proxy wars in Central America, and George H.W. Bush's attacks on civil rights and worker rights at home. So long as injustice exists, so too the possibility to name it and work to change it exists.
That's where teachers come in. Bush may be president of the United States of America, but he is not president of our curriculum.
It is more vital than ever that teacher education programs sharpen their vision of critical classroom life. In teacher ed programs, just as in many school districts, No Child Left Behind is suffocating promising pedagogical approaches with a blanket of fear and substituting test-prep for real teaching. Still, there is extraordinary work going on in teacher preparation around the country, and we need to promote, celebrate, and extend these efforts. Here, too, we need to fill up all the political space available, as the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire urged.