I’ve long said that few people have inspired and motivated me more than Lawrence Lessig, author, law professor, scholar, father, advocate, and speaker. I’ve had the honor of seeing Lessig present a number of times, and I’ve had some brief conversations with him that have left me motivated and have pushed in my thinking. When I first started speaking, I blatantly ripped off his presentation style even though I never came close to doing it justice. He’s had a huge influence in my thinking about the world.
So when John Pederson sent me a link to this audio snip from a recent presentation that John asked Lessig to make at the WiscNet conference, I dove in. He’s answering a question about the huge challenge that lies ahead in fixing our dysfunctional government and eliminating money from politics. And now that I’ve listened to it a half a dozen times, I feel changed. Take a listen:
I know that Lessig isn’t talking about education when he discusses this feeling of “hopelessness.” But there are times when I (and I know many others) feel that sense of hopelessness when it comes to fighting the money and political power that is pushing the education reform conversation in this country right now. I sometimes look at that mountain of dysfunction and wonder “why bother? There’s nothing we can do. There’s no way we win this fight.”
But there is this: I love schools. We love schools. We love schools because they are places where children and adults come together to make sense of the world, to develop together the dispositions and perspectives that will carry them throughout their lives. We love schools because they are places of play and of beauty, of social connections and citizenship. We love schools because they are at times filled with magic that only happens when we share a common desire to create and learn and contribute. And we love schools because of the potential every child and every teacher brings with them to the interaction.
You know where this is going. What I hear Lessig saying is this:
If we love schools, right now, we have to fight for schools.
And whether we like it or not, this is what we are in: a fight for our schools. Like Lessig, I’m convinced that we’re making public policy around education that is driven by corporate profits, not the best interests of kids. I’ve written about that here and here and here and lots of other places. But if you don’t believe me, read Alfie Kohn. Read Yong Zhao. Read Gary Stager. Read Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. You need only listen to the first few minutes of Jeb Bush to understand that whether we like it or not, we are in this moment when the future of our schools is being decided and we all have a part to play. You might call that hyperbolic, but I don’t think I’m overstating it.
But Lessig provides some powerful context, doesn’t he?
“Love means in the face of absolute improbability, you don’t care about the improbability, you do what it takes even knowing there is nothing you can do. You act as strongly as you possibly can…It might be impossible. It might be we’re past the stage when we as a people can rally together to do anything about this. It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. We still as a people have absolutely every single purpose and obligation to do what we can to do about this. And that starts in this very tenuous, obscure way which is just getting more of us to understand the problem. And once more of us understand that problem, then at least we have an army that recognizes what they have to fight against, whether we can win or not.”
So let’s say it: We love schools. And we have an obligation to fight, to educate, to advocate in whatever way we can to make sure more people fully understand the problem that corporate driven, narrowly framed, assessment driven “reform” is not what is in the best interest of our children or our society. And it doesn’t matter that we sometimes feel hopelessness in the moment. We can’t change it with inaction and acceptance. That’s just not a valid choice.