Over the last few years, I have founded or helped found several Facebook groups engaged in education activism and protests against corporate control of public education and the test-driven policies it has inspired. I helped create "Dump Duncan" and "Occupy Teach for America"—the first two years ago, the second six months ago—and each have been dynamic and successful in promoting conversation and activism.
But nothing can compare to what has happened with a group I helped found earlier this weekend, with an activist from the midwest, Priscilla Sanstead. It's called "The Badass Teachers Association." Within one day, the group had grown to about 270 members, and then, through a recruiting contest we organized on the recommendation of Long Island teacher Marla Massey Kilfoyle, we shot up to more than 1,500 members between 4 PM and midnight on Sunday! Four days later, nearly 6,500 educators have joined.
The surge of energy that accompanied this meteoric rise in membership is like nothing I had experienced before in Facebook activism. And it requires some explanation. Why did a group with a half-humorous, and extremely provocative name, create such excitement among teachers all over the nation?
The key may lie in the statement we wrote describing our reason for creating the group:
"This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning."
At a time when high stakes testing and attacks on teacher autonomy have become official policy of both major parties, supported by the wealthiest people in the nation, and cheered on by the media, teachers may have reached a tipping point regarding the campaign of demonization directed against them, and the micromanagement of their classroom lives, especially because leaders of teachers unions—who have accepted funds from groups like the Gates Foundation that support test-driven teacher evaluation—have not fought back effectively against these efforts.
Never have teachers felt more embattled, and never have they felt more alone. Many are contemplating retirement, more are under doctors care for stress and anxiety, all fear retaliation for speaking their mind about what is happening in their districts, their schools, and their classrooms.
Now all of a sudden, a group appears, which symbolically and metaphorically allows teachers to say, "We've had enough. We are not your doormats. We are not your punching bags. We are some of the hardest working, most idealistic people in this country and we are not going to take it anymore. We are going to stand up for ourselves, and stand up for our students even if no organization really supports us. We are Badass. We are legion. And we will force the nation to hear our voice!"
Badass Teachers teach, love and nurture children everyone has given up on, in good times and bad—children with disabilities, children who have been kicked out of their families, children who can't sit still, children who have seen unimaginable horrors, children who are homeless, children who are under constant stress, along with children who have happy lives, and happy families. They teach and love them all, and protect and defend them from physical threats and the threat of tests and assessments which humiliate them and destroy their love of learning
Badass Teachers stayed in the nation's toughest neighborhoods when everyone else left, amidst drug epidemics and drive-by shootings, factory closings and fires—turning schools and their classrooms into refuges and place of hope, only to see themselves attacked for failing to reduce the "achievevement gap" by people who were in fancy colleges while they went to work every day, and then watching the same people close the schools they had devoted their lives to making work.
Badass Teachers protect their students every day, even at the risk of their own lives, and in Columbine and Newtown made the ultimate sacrifice, drawing upon their deep sense of mission and a love supreme. These heroic teachers stand as symbols of tens of thousands of teachers throughout the nation who have disarmed students, broken up fights, stopped gang wars from breaking out, and put themselves in harms way in riots and brawls. This is the Badass ethos. This is what is REALLY means to put students first.
In terms of what policies or organizing strategies will emerge from this group, only time will tell. But it is significant that there are clearly thousands of teachers in this country who are fed up with polite, respectful appeals to policy makers who hold them in contempt, and are ready to fight fire with fire.
In claiming the label "Badass" with pride, they are announcing a new spirit of resistance, which combined with similar movements among students and parents, could end up giving corporate school reformers much more than they bargained for.
Click here to add supporting a teacher's classroom on Donors Choose to your GOOD "To-Do" list.
A version of this post originally appeared at With a Brooklyn Accent.
Photo via (cc) Flickr user audio-luci-store.it