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Reoccurring question #4,080: What kind of Collaboration will it be?

October 23, 2010

I can confidently say before beginning this one that there will be more on this topic shortly.

Education is filled to the brim with buzz words  used so frequently that they grow foggy in not specifically communicating what people see and propose in education circles (holla @ word attack, fellow authors!). One such word is collaboration.

After looking back to earlier this year and the summer by watching CORE CTU leaders Karen Lewis, Jackson Potter, and Michael Brunson powerful grassroots messages for progressive educators, I have been energized this entire week. Karen Lewis, at the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit on April 25, 2010, interrogated the dangerously narrow definition of “collaboration”  that is frequently forced or handed from above (beginning at 2:37)

“Explain to me how competition helps us educate our young? Explain to me how competition is better than collaboration with one another? Oh, they want collaboration alright, but they don’t want us to collaborate with each other. They want us to collaborate with them.”

A step further, to which I’m confident Lewis would agree, is the suspicion I have that the phrase “collaboration with” and “collaboration together” all too often means “collaboration FOR us”. Collaborating FOR a superior instead of WITH predictably involves wholesale compromise of your own views, voice, and power in a matter. This way, you can serve a function you have been graciously allowed to serve without muddying up the waters with things like genuine input, feedback, reciprocity, and respect.

This, in my experience, is one of the more deceptively malignant paradigms for sabotaged collaboration. Still, there are numerous other examples of collaboration in which your interests as a teacher/parent/community member were undermined long before you approached the table.

Drum roll please……………Enter Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, stage left:

Soetoro-Ng states in an unsolicited email that “…though she was at ‘one time one of Randi’s teachers myself in my first years of teaching in NYC’ (and ‘was even the union rep’)” in order to preface her endorsement of Waiting for Superman. Soetoro-Ng then drops the following rhetorical dump by suggesting “…the film will help people to see the importance of graceful negotiation when trying to change a system and recognize the true power of persuasion.” She goes on, calling for “…an increase in ‘the amount and caliber of dialogue between teachers, administrators, community members, and parents.”

Let’s decipher that real quick! (where is that sound-bite converter from the Corporate Reform Action Pack when I need it?)

I’m not sure what she meant when she said she was one of “Randi’s teachers myself” but there are plenty of other educators who were at one time members of teachers unions before fully moving on to the sweet, succulent blessings of neoliberalism and condescending paternalism for struggling schools. Regardless of the details behind her supposed time as a UFT member, she joined an alternative-education charter middle school, The Learning Project, and was there from 1996-2000.

“Graceful negotiation” could easily imply that teachers, their unions, parents, communities, and anyone else who dare get in the way of being cooperative and collaborative on behalf of wealthy interests need to just concede to corporate ed reformers. If you got some other ideas, take em elsewhere and only come back when you’re either an elite billionaire thirsty to shove your vision on poor black and brown kids or when you’ve learned to “recognize the true power of persuasion”.

Now this dialogue between “teachers, administrators, community members, and parents” has felt quite scripted and hasn’t done anything for the interests of many among the list of stakeholders who are concerned about social justice. The resulting outcomes from this false dialogue certainly hasn’t advanced learning  for students in any measurable, significant way relative to the sacrifice corporate ed reform policies require.

Which takes me back collaboration. Collaboration involves wresting  with and negotiating various competing ideas while also building on shared ideas in a spirit of equity. Collaborating when one or more parties who already has it all figured out and just needs you there to give the appearance of cooperation is not authentic collaboration.

As Sabrina wrote, “Even just the manner in which the problem is approached– ‘I know best, I will impose my will on you, and you will eventually come to accept my wisdom’ as opposed to, ‘I have the means, you have the knowledge, how can I help you achieve what you want?”

Let’s let that ring out a bit more and find out just how many people are willing to listen and get on board with real collaboration between the PRIMARY STAKEHOLDERS in urban education. With that understanding in mind, we can proceed together rather than divided.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Cal permalink
    October 23, 2010 12:00 pm

    Seen on the wall at an Appalachia Service Project site: “If you’ve come here to help you’ve wasted your time, but if our futures are bound together as one then come, let us work together.”

    That one party might “help” connotes a superior position.

    • markfriedman1 permalink
      October 23, 2010 8:57 pm

      I saw something similar written about a sign outside a Zapatista compound near Chiapas that said something like, “if you came here to help us, then turn around and leave now. If you came to build solidarity together with us then enter and let’s start working.”


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