Clarinda Harriss: Gladly Would (she) Teach and Gladly Learn

Dr. Sara deFord, my longtime teacher and mentor—with whom I eventually collaborated on two books—was a medievalist as well as a poet. While we Goucher undergrads were happily toiling our way through Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in their original Middle English, she pointed out that the description of the Clerk would fit perfectly a contemporary T(eaching) A(ssistant) working toward a PhD. Teaching at Forest Park High School while I worked toward my grad degree, I understood the aptness of the quotation. From spending my first 14 years of my total of 40 at Towson U., I was struck by how similar the Teach Assistant and the Adjunct are, and how both are fit to a T by the Clerk.

Clarinda Harriss
Clarinda Harriss

The funny thing about being a TA or an adjunct is that how many of these homeless, rights-less fledgling profs love their work; their exhilaration, if they are lucky enough to feel it at all, can transfer powerfully to their students. Both Lynda and Frannie, now among my oldest friends, were my students at Forest Park High School (FPHS) over 50 years ago. I am firming up plans for my annual get-together with Lynda, and my offspring and I consider Frannie a member of the family. I believe they graduated from FPHS in 1964.   From FPHS students I learned, among many other things, that teaching was my true calling. (More so, even, than writing.) And I think what I learned to love best about teaching was how much it taught me. I had much to learn.

Fast backward to a January day in 1961, a teacher’s meeting day just prior to the start of the Spring semester. I had tacked up various cheerful pictures above the blackboards (they really were black and made of slate!) and written a quiz on the board (my mother, perhaps the wisest teacher I’ve ever known, said a daily quiz would give me a chance to “get myself together” before starting a lesson). I had put Mateus wine bottle empties with ivy in them on the wide, wide windowsills (we’re talking about the gorgeous old FPHS here, complete with marble halls and 20-foot high art deco goddesses holding urns on either side of the antique elevators). And I stared down at the rows and rows of antique desks, wood and wrought iron combos nailed securely to the floor. Empty desks. They seemed Escher-like. Nightmarish. I panicked.

But the next day, when the desks were all occupied by students, I realized (to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh’s Roo sipping from a medicine bottle), “This is what Clarinda likes!” Panic evaporated. Elation took over, though sometimes it kind of scared me to realize that, at 21, and THE TEACHER, I was the only so-called adult in the crowded room.   As soon as the desks were peopled with, well, people, the back-and-forth, the teaching and learning in both directions, started.

My sense of “I can do this!” was greatly enhanced by Stanley Berdoff. I think that’s his real name; he won’t be mad at me if he reads this, I suspect.   Stanley was not present on the first day. “Wait till Stanley gets here,” students told me, snickering. Stanley was the resident bad-ass. He wasn’t there the next day, either.   On the third day, just as I was climbing via a desktop up onto the window sill to see if I could open a window (even with one of those long hooked poles I couldn’t do it), Stanley, late of course, swaggered in.   The class held its collective breath.“You must be Stanley,” I blurted. “Do you think you could give me a hand here?”

In an instant Stanley leapt onto the windowsill as onto a charger and took the pole, the lance, from my hand. He jousted with the window and won. “Hey, when you need me to do anything for you, I’m right here,” said Stanlely Bad-Ass Berdoff, my shining knight. I like to recall that the class applauded, but I’m not sure that part really happened.

Then there was the enormous Vo-Tech class. Every semester I was assigned at least one of those: boys—no, young men—who were either deemed not smart enough for the Academic track or who actually chose to be in the Vocational track, taking wood shop and machine shop so they could go into the workforce right way. For obvious reasons, the guys in that track differed radically from one another in intelligence, motivation, you name it.   That difference swiftly became apparent to me when I met ferociously intelligent Jimmy McCulloch (not quite his real name, for reasons which will become apparent).

Thirty copies of MACBETH had recently been delivered by dolly to my classroom, and forty-some eleventh grade vo-tech guys were struggling through it, many forced to share their copies. Mostly we read the play aloud and acted out the bloodiest or funniest scenes (vo-tech guys made brilliant witches). Fact is, Macbeth is perfectly attuned to almost-adult males, who understand masculine rivalry and also tend to be a bit sentimental; it wasn’t unusual for a couple of the guys to get teary eyed when Macduff cries “All my pretty ones? All?”

One day Jimmy lingered at my desk after class.

“Miz Lott, how much longer are we going to be doing Macbeth?”

“Oh, Jimmy, I’m sorry we’re going so slowly—you’re probably getting bored– but we should be done by the end of the week.”

“No, Miz Lott, it’s just that my uncles need to know when I can get back to work, and I can’t cut school while we’re on Macbeth.”

Jimmy was the scion of a family famous from Baltimore to Appalachia for its skill at parting out stolen cars.

Jimmy played Macbeth the rest of the week. And, when he was not too busy working with his uncles, he kept my moribund 1950 Morris Minor alive till the semester ended. Guilty secret: I never really liked Macbeth till then. Jimmy and his vo-tech cohorts taught me to love it.

Then there were the Basics.   These were students deemed not smart enough to be in either the academic OR the vocational tracks. We were given guidelines for how to “cope” with them, and dumbed down rewrites of Macbeth (ditto Silas Marner, etc.) arrived unbidden to our classrooms for them to suffer through. A couple of other fledgling profs and I cruelly referred to the most challenged of these students as the Mopantew Kids.   That’s because on one quiz a “Basic” youth spelled “potato” “mopantew.” Years later, as a direct result of teaching poetry at the university level, I noted that this “Basic” boy was close to being literate: unlike some of the poetry students, he understand syllables and the alternation of consonants with vowels and, most of all, accentuation. All somebody would’ve had to do was get him and others like him Hooked on Phonics. That was a lesson I learned too late.

As much as I learned from my high school students, both at Forest Park and at Towson High (where it was a student who told me that I had to read Dalton Trumbo and another who turned me on to Confederacy of Dunces), nothing can quite compare with what I learned from my “Editing the Literary Magazine” course at Towson University(TU), a class comprising the large staff of GRUB STREET, TU’s prizewinning lit and arg mag.   On one blue-and-gold September morning, a beloved colleague, Peggy Benner, rushed into my classroom and plunked her “vintage” black and white portable TV on the front table. Not I, but the Grub Street editor, Hilary Szygiel, sat at that table, leading the discussion of the most recent batch of submissions.   And that is how Hilarie and I and the other 30-some staff members watched the second Twin Tower fall in real time. It freaks me out—in a marvelous say—to realize that all of us, when asked what we were doing on 9/11, would almost certainly say the same thing, and, unless I’m a total exception, recall feeling a sense of connection like to few we’d ever experienced.   To this day I feel grateful that I was part of what I consider the most important aspect of teaching/learning in a classroom: a sense of community unique in our experience. The community of scholars and vo-tech guys and writers and, yes, Mopantew Kids. It transcends time. The Clerk is part of the community.

From Canterbury Tales: The Clerk

For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,
On bookes and on lernynge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye.
Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede.Noght o word spak he moore than was neede, And that was seyd in forme and reverence, And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence; Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,310And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

Clarinda Harriss is a professor emerita of English at Towson University.  For more than four decades she has done several things dear to her heart, and continues to do them:  publish BrickHouse Books, Inc., Maryland’s oldest literary press, and worked with prison writers.   Her most recent book, THE WHITE RAIL (Halfmoon Editions, Atlanta, GA) ,  is a collection of short fiction, not her “real” genre, poetry.  She delights in her two children and five grandchildren.

Reblogging: Education Alchemy on Privatization

Today I am reposting my friend Morna McDermott‘s blog on teacher appreciation. Moran is a courageous education professor at Towson University in Baltimore and a fierce defender of the creativity and humanity in the classroom. If you want to know some of the more hidden aspects of “personalized learning” and “education reform,” Morna is the person in the know. Moran is also one of the leaders for United Opt Out, a movement to stop standardized testing and to resist the corporate takeover of public education.

Step-by-Step Privatization and Profit: ESSA Delivers Schools to Wall Street with a Bow on Top

Posted: June 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


Social impact bond projects are very definitely privatisation. PFI/PPP projects have effectively privatised the design, finance, construction and maintenance of much public infrastructure. Now social impact bond projects potentially privatise the design, finance, service delivery, management, monitoring and evaluation of early intervention and prevention policies.”

Step One- Curriculum: Common Core standards created one set of standards (modules) (originating from a global agenda circa 1985) For a full history of support for this outline click the link.

According to a promotional flyer created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

“Education leaders have long talked about setting rigorous standards and allowing students more or less time as needed to demonstrate mastery of subjects and skills. This has been more a promise than a reality, but we believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences.” 

So that…

Step Two-Testing: There can be one consistent numerical metric by which to measure student outcomes (PARCC)

So that…

Step Three- We can have modularized Competency Based Assessment: Instruction and ongoingtesting can be delivered via technology ….

Competency-based education has been part of Achieve’s strategic plan for a few years, … states and national organizations that have made this topic a priority: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, iNACOL, Digital Learning Now, CCSSO and NGA.”

Pearson. “With competency-based education, institutions can help students complete credentials in less time, at lower cost.”

So that…

Step Four– We can have Pay for Success (or) Social Impact Bonds (evaluated for their “success” via the competency/outcomes based model) replace the funding infrastructure of public schools….

CTAC, the Boston-based Institute for Compensation Reform and Student Learning at the Community Training and Assistance Center partners with departments of education to develop and promote student learning outcomes (SLO’s). William Slotnik is executive director of CTAC. He advocates for VAM and merit pay schemes. “William Slotnik,… has argued that performance-based compensation tied directly to the educational mission of a school district can be a lever to transform schools.”

According the National Governors Association (NGA): “CBE can be a way for states to pay for the outcomes they want if supported by a funding formula that allocates dollars based on student learning, not simply time spent in a classroom or full-time equivalency”

ESSA was designed to open the flood gates for neoliberal profiteers to not only profit from public educations services (I,e. tests or curriculum) but to completely own it. See Fred Klonsky who concurs with Mercedes Schneider that “these bonds are an open door for the exploitation of children who do not score well on tests.” Social Impact Bonds have been criticized as a central piece of ESSA as noted by BATS: “‘Pay for Success’ from Every Student Succeeds Act  as it is located in Title 1, Part D, Section 4108, page 485. Social Impact Bonds favor financial investors and NOT KIDS! In Title IV, A in the section titled Safety and Healthy Students, page 797, Social Impact Bonds are defined as ‘Pay for Success.’ Investors are paid off when a student IS NOT referred to special education. ”

The entire system of reforms over the last three decades have been a step by step sequence of actions designed to privatize public education as a for- profit enterprise of Wall Street investments.

Social impact bonds are a development in the mutation of privatization … The new emphasis on financialising and personalising services to create new pathways for the mutation of privatisation recognised that health, education and social services could not be sold off in the same way as state owned corporations. It ensured marketisation and privatisation were permanent and not dependent on outsourcing, which could be reversed by terminating or not renewing contracts (Whitfield, 2012a and 2012b).”

Again, the NGA: “In addition, leadership, promotion, and pay structures might look different in a CBE system that asks educators to take on new, specialized roles. Underpinning many current policies are labor contracts, which specify the educator’s role based on specified amounts of class time. Such policies would not only be unnecessary in a CBE system but would significantly impede the adoption of such a system.”

You dismantle labor unions on a global scale, which was, the goal of ALEC and the World Bank back when they began devising these policies. The following is an outline from the World Bank link on Global Education Reform,  summarizing what they think are key issues:

      • Decentralization & School-Based Management Resource Kit
        Directions in Development: Decentralization Series
    • Financing Reform
      • Vouchers
      • Contracting
      • Private Sector
      • Charter Schools
      • Privatization
      • Private Delivery of Services
    • Teacher Reform
      • On-line resources related to teacher career development
      • Teacher Evaluation as part of Quality Assurance
    • Curriculum Reform
      • Country Examples of Curriculum Reforms
      • Accountability in Education
      • Standard in Education

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

One report I found by Pauline Lipman (2012)  summarizes all of this quite nicely:

 “Under the Global Agreement on Trade in Services, all aspects of education and education services are subject to global trade. The result is the global marketing of schooling from primary school through higher education. Schools, education management organizations, tutoring services, teacher training, tests, curricula online classes, and franchises of branded universities are now part of a global education marketEducation markets are one facet of the neoliberal strategy to manage the structural crisis of capitalism by opening the public sector to capital accumulation. The roughly $2.5 trillion global market in education is a rich new arena for capital investment …and testing is a prominent mechanism to steer curriculum and instruction to meet these goals efficiently and effectively.”

The 2011 ALEC Annual Conference Substantive Agenda on Education shows their current interests:

“…the Task Force voted on several proposed bills and resolutions, with topics including: digital learning, the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, curriculum on free enterprise, taxpayers’ savings grants, amendments to the existing model legislation on higher education accountability, and a comprehensive bill that incorporates many components of the landmark school reforms Indiana passed this legislative session. Attendees will hear a presentation on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ initiative to grow great schools, as well as one on innovations in higher education.”

According to one European white paper: “Philanthrocapitalism is the embedding of neoliberalism into the activities of foundations and trusts. It is a means of marketising and privatising social development aid in the global south. It has also been described as Philanthropic Colonialism … It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity. But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The replacement of public finance and grants from public/foundations/trusts to community organisations, voluntary organisations and social enterprises with ‘social investment’, requiring a return on investment, means that all activities must be profitable. This will have a profound impact on the ability to regenerate to meet social and community needs. The merging of PPPs, impacting investing and philanthrocapitalism would be complete!”

Thank a Teacher…Before It’s Too Late

Today I am reposting my friend Morna McDermott‘s blog on teacher appreciation. Moran is a courageous education professor at Towson University in Baltimore and a fierce defender of the creativity and humanity in the classroom. If you want to know some of the more hidden aspects of “personalized learning” and “education reform,” Morna is the person in the know. Moran is also one of the leaders for United Opt Out, a movement to stop standardized testing and to resist the corporate takeover of public education.

Also, check out this flowchart to see who is really behind the Common Core. We should all be concerned about the corporate takeover of public education.

Public School Teachers: The Next Endangered Species (4 years later)

by educationalchemy

This is a RE POSTING of a blog I (Morna McDermott) wrote four years ago during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Seems appropriate to re-post it now. Please comment on the question: How much has changed or not in last four years?


I felt an urgency to write this post before Friday in order to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week because this quasi “event of recognition” must remain close on our radar well past this Friday.  Never mind that this gesture is being erased by the first annual…gag…National Charter School week … gag again.

On Monday Mark Naison shared a post that reads:

“Having Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States of America, at this historic moment, is like having Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season.”

After reading this I laughed out loud for a while, and then quietly chuckled to myself for days after that. Why? Because what is happening to public education and to public teachers is so not funny that sometimes I have to laugh to stave the tears and massive waves of despair. And although the deer population may not be considerably reduced during hunting season (no offense to my animal rights activists friends intended), I worry that teachers, real live teachers, are becoming an endangered species.

If you haven’t already shown your appreciation somehow for the public teachers in your life, past or present, do it now. Why? Because chances are, sooner than any of us anticipate, we won’t be sending our flowers, cards, candy, or well-wishes to teachers anymore.  We will have to send them directly to education profiteers like Pearson, Carpe Diem Schools, Connections Academy, and Bill Gates, all of whom are advocating to replace public school teachers with online learning and other in-school online technologies.

Just this week I smiled as my son walked gleefully through his school, passing out homemade muffins to his teachers  for teacher Appreciation. Soon he’ll have to be screaming “thank you” to a computer screen.

The lobbying power behind this movement is astounding because so are the profits to be made. Profitable for corporations, not children of course.  Michelle Rhee through her (Rosemary’s) baby StudentsFirst,  “pledged to spend more than $1 billionto bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.”

And pretty soon every child in Philadelphia can sit in front of a computer and succumb to online “learning” since their community schools have been shut down. Why is this? According to City Paper:

The pro-voucher funding stream appears unstoppable, with sources like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. So it goes: The same political forces that have bled Philly schools for decades now decry their poor performance. The solution, of course, is the private sector.”

Conveniently, the billion-dollar-online-learning companies are touting rhetoric that “all children deserve a great teacher.” Duh. How much did they spend to find that out? However, they claim is that in order to deliver on this proclamation, we need to infuse technologies such as online charter schools, and billions of dollars of technology to public schools to make it happen. They claim that we must free up the “best” teachers by using technology more. Convenient. According to theWashington Post, Gates recommends:

“Lift(ing) caps on class sizes and get(ting) more students in front of the very best teachers. Those teachers would get paid more with the savings generated from having fewer personnel overall.”

Those of us who have been in education for more than a few decades already know how to maximize the strengths of “great teachers!” It’s called: resources, reduced class size, having more teaching assistants per classroom, and NOT demanding endless batteries of high stakes testing, test preparation, and data keeping of those tests all of which wastemeaningful instructional time.

Duh. But … there’s no profit in those solutions.

No.  What Gates and company recommend (in their infinite pedagogical experience and scholarly wisdom on child development) is to:

“Eliminate or reduce “seat time” requirements for students to be with licensed staff, focusing on student outcomes (read: tests) instead. This will allow, for example, unlicensed staff to monitor digital labs, freeing funds to pay more—within budget—to the excellent teachers in charge.”

They call this “seizing opportunity.” Seizing opportunity indeed.

Speaking of seizing opportunity, let’s look at Carpe Diem (or “seize the day”),  a “blended learning” model school spreading like a bad case of herpes across the country, and Indiana in particular. As Peg Robertson  writes:

“Six Carpe Diem schools are indeed headed to Indiana. ALEC loves them. See chapter five of their latest report card.  Six schools will soon arrive, focused on ALEC’s love of technology and lack of teachers. This isn’t innovation – this is mind-numbing education delivered via computer with a few teachers (4) left to fill in the regimented gaps.”

How do these new online learning communities get so much political favoritism? Go ask ALEC.

Connections Academy is a national for-profit online learning corporation, and whose co-founder and executive VP is Mickey Revenaugh, who is also the co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force.

It’s no coincidence that Pearson acquired Connections (Academy) Education, establishing a leading position in the fast-growing virtual school segment and the opportunity to apply Connections Education’s skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets. 

And even if your community has not yet been sucked into the vacuum of a corporate charter model, even if you still walk your child everyday to a public school, your Teacher Appreciation tokens might as well go straight to Pearson. Why? Because Pearson has also acquiredpartnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, SAT testing, GED testing, and was the central player (through Achieve) in the design of the National Common Core Standards. Pearson can now micromanage the Common Core, as well as all teacher-related materials needed to teach the Common Core, and all required testing materials to test the Common Core.  And more of Common Core will be going online, via courtesy of Pearson. Convenient.

Need I go on? The teacher has become an inconvenient and costly middleman who needs to be removed from the equation, because they get in the way of corporate profit.

More and more classes, k through 12, are being held online in schools across America. And the numbers of online delivery are increasing. From an article by Trip Gabriel, I offer a few highlights:

* “More than one million in the United States, by one estimate are taking online courses. Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier.”

* “In Memphis, where 7,000 high school students were assigned to study online in computer labs this year because there were not enough teachers to comply with state class-size caps, every student must take an online course to graduate, beginning with current sophomores.”

* “In Idaho, the state superintendent of education plans to push a requirement that high school students take four or more online courses, following a bill that passed the Legislature last week to provide every student with a laptop, paid for from a state fund for educators’ salaries.”

But this last statement really drives the issue home for me:

“K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice, including Jeb Bushs’ Foundation for Excellence in Education which has called on states to provide all students with “Internet access devices” and remove bans on for-profit virtual schools.”

So I want to take a moment to thank the teachers in my life who have influenced me.  And none of them worked for a textbook company or were presented to me via a computer portal.

Mrs. Belafatto from 5th grade. Thank you for inspiring my creative writing. I remember the great free-writing time we had, and the smiley face feedback that encouraged me to write. I do what I do today in large part because of you.

Mr Dever from 4th grade. Thank you for allowing us as a class to build a real reading loft out of wood and nails in our classroom. We collaborated together, measured, problem-solved, and created. You remind me that teaching and learning are embodied and hands-on experiences that cannot be measured on a standardized test.

Mr. Barlow from 9th grade. Sure, you were categorically insane. Rumor had it you lived in your car. You made me cry at the blackboard. But you taught me to believe in myself, never to back down, and to face challenges head-on. I take my memory of you with me today into this battle for education.

Dr. Ball from my graduate school statistics class. Thank you for staying on the phone with me that Sunday afternoon during the football play offs, when you took over an hour of your time away from the game to walk me through the computer-based exam, while I sobbed hysterically in a panic. You taught me that the qualities that matter most in being a teacher are patience, empathy, and dedication. I don’t remember what was on that exam -but I remember what you did for me.

So, thank a teacher. Unless we appreciate them enough to fight for them, they will become an endangered species. And since no one with any real policy making power in education seems to be doing much about this, maybe we need to get the Wildlife Federation on the case. Anyone got their number?

educationalchemy | May 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL:

Reform: The Need for Passion: Morna McDermott

I first met Morna McDermott through a Rethinking Schools’ article she wrote on using art for social change in education. Moran spoke about the power of art in helping teachers and students to have a voice in the debate over educational reform. I later did an interview with Morna in Little Patuxent Review and we have continued to support each other’s work ever since. Welcome, Morna!

“You find that that fire is passion/And there’s a door up ahead not a wall”
~Lou Reed, 1992

Art and education for me are passions. Passion evokes the entire self into an experience. Passion in general terms implies giving entirely of oneself (body and spirit if you will) to an act or an idea. The process requires complete immersion of the whole being, knowledge, feeling, memory, hopes, and fears, rather than the safety of aloof “objective” removal of self and observation. Do we create educational experiences for children that evoke passion? Or do we, as Wordsworth puts it, “murder to dissect?”

Morna McDermott at United Opt Out Event
Morna McDermott at United Opt Out Event

The world of real life education is filled with multiple voices from ordinary people struggling to create their own lives. As education professionals, we become no more than a lofty idea raised so high above the din that we cannot hear the music. We cut out those parts of their world that we’d rather not see. bell hooks [1] (1995) believes that our current educational crisis stems from, “the traditional technicist attitude of teachers who, unaware of the outside influences in students’ lives”, and thus ignores “their cries for relevance in their lives.” Instead of attending to those important influences, we dissect their lives, their motives, their experiences, to fit policies created in the mind’s eye of corporate billionaires who see children and teachers as nothing more than “human capital.”

When we do something with a passion, our spines tingle and our hearts race and we are completely immersed in the moment and our senses heightened. We remain attentive to the experience and nothing else. Not only are we more present and awake, we are somehow also merged more deeply into ourselves and yet equally part of the thing or persons that evokes the passion. The core of our education experiences, as acts of artistic passion, bring us into a dynamic interplay with something larger than ourselves. As an artist, it is necessary for me to say what otherwise can’t be said, to draw out the meaning I seek from the cracks in the cement and to seek untold possibilities from out of the darkness.

“As you pass through the fire…there are things you have to throw out” (Lou Reed, 1992).

Creation requires risk. It requires a willingness to let go of outcomes and immerse ourselves with a sense of faith in the process. Being an artist is nothing I do. Being an artist is something I am. Bringing ourselves as conscious creators into the equation means cutting loose from the anchors of absolute knowledge and singular visions. Art, the artist’s eye, and art as a way of being, offer us a means of creation rather than destruction. Art speaks to the soul. It is the language of poetry, metaphor, shape and form that allow us to face the task ahead by bringing forth into the light, the vital life force elements stuffed between the cracks of dead and static concrete. Art brings the language of understanding needed to anchor the journey where literal meaning cannot be exacted. To try renders us speechless, saying everything but what needs to be said, seen, or heard.

“There’s a bit of magic in everything/And then some loss to even things out” (Lou Reed, 1992).

As such, the artist and the medium become interchangeable. Can we envision an educational framework that immerses our children in such a way that they are empowered to transform both themselves and the world? Speaking of art in the postmodern era, Suzi Gablik (1991) [2]describes art as a re-constructive act that can transform society. What she writes of art I also see through the eyes of an educator. She argues that a society which breeds competition and separates individuals through hierarchies and power relationships also “leads to a deadening of empathy-the solitary, self-contained, self sufficient ego is not given to what David Michael Levin calls ‘enlightened listening’, a listening oriented towards the achievement of shared understanding“. To become consciously aware of this becomes a source of empowerment. It allows one to bring the imagination to the foreground of practice.

The educator- as- artist begins to envision new possibilities. Learning becomes an opus, through which the process of bringing together: self and other, our individual and collective passions as well as our voices, words and images, into a creative act of transformation. We are defined not so much by what we know but by the empty spaces between the lines. Real change is not adding to something. Education transformation will not come through an onslaught of “innovations” or ‘standards” sold to us by corporations and technology think-tanks. Education as transformation means we (as process and “product”) are altered at our core, our core of what we do every day and what we can envision.

[1] hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion. New York: Henry Holt Press.
[1] Gablik, S. (1991/1995). The re-enchantment of art. New York: Thames & Hudson.
[1] hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion. New York: Henry Holt Press.
[2] Gablik, S. (1991/1995). The re-enchantment of art. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Bio: Morna McDermott is one of the eight administrators for the national movement United Opt Out. She has been working in, with, and around public schools for over twenty years. Currently she is also a Professor at Towson University, in Maryland where she teaches various theory and methods courses in the College of Education. Her scholarship and research interests focus on democracy, social justice, and arts-informed inquiry in K-post secondary educational settings, and working with beginning and experienced educators. Her recent books include The Left Handed Curriculum: Creative Experiences for Empowering Teachers (2012), and An Activist Handbook for the Education Revolution (2014) She also writes for her blog Her latest posts are titled  “If George Orwell ran an Education Conference, It Would Be This” and “Swindling Our Schools: Baltimore County Style.”