Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Valerie Strauss  reports in the Answer Sheet blog of The Washington Post |

September 8, 2010; 11:00 AM ET --Charlotte Hummel is the president of the Board of School Directors of the William Penn School District in Pennsylvania, which serves approximately 5,500 students.

She recently addressed the district’s professional staff with powerful remarks, which are unusual in that they are highly critical of education reformers.

In this speech, she offers a different vision of education and says to the staff: “I see my job as standing firmly between you and those who are misguided in their beliefs about what education is and just how hard it is to go about the job of educating our youth.”

Here are Hummel’s remarks:

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I have been looking forward to this moment for nine years, which is how long I have served on the school board. It is in the last 8 months that I have had the privilege of serving as your school board’s president. I must say up front that I don’t intend to avoid the political in my remarks. In fact, it is my job to be political...

Despite the national and state political movements which purport to improve education – movements I think of as being based on the idea that “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” I have come to firmly believe that those of us who know what public education is really about – like those of us in the William Penn School District family – those of us in this room, others who work for the students in the district, the parents, students and community – must adopt and live by our own philosophy, a new approach to how we approach public education and that is: “We are wearing our own Ruby Slippers.”

Of course, where national and state policy and practice make sense we should embrace it; but where it doesn’t make sense -- like funding schemes that ensure apartheid education and community disintegration, the turning of children into data generators, teachers into script readers and test proctors and administrators into Pavlovian competitors for the next race for the money – in those instances, we should and will speak up, point out that the emperor has no clothes and take the rational albeit radical path of resistance.

We must not, as they used to say in the civil rights movement – participate in our own oppression. So it’s a good thing that WPSD has one of the most radical superintendents and school board presidents in the state when it comes to speaking truth to power. We are wearing our own Ruby Slippers and you’d better not be stepping on our toes.

So what do I mean by this? Well I have come to realize – and to tell anyone who will listen that no one – not the state or federal government, not the major foundations or education think tanks; not those who run charter schools or who propose vouchers; not those who purport to have simple answers to complex questions or who offer quick fixes to long-term challenges – no one who currently holds positions of leadership and power in our governments is going to save us.

They simply just don’t get it. They don’t realize what true education is and they have no clue the challenges we face in helping students engage in it.

So, we have to take matters into our own hands, look to each other to find our strengths and possibilities, marshal our resources, count our blessings and save ourselves.

As I have told my daughter and countless young women, Rapunzel didn’t have to lament her fate in the tower, she didn’t have to waste away alone and isolated, she didn’t have to waste her time and potential in waiting. Had she been thinking differently, she could have cut off her own hair, tied it to the bedpost and rescued herself decades before the prince appeared on the scene. If you think about it, even after he did show up, she still needed to provide the rope.

I look forward to this new year, this new beginning.

You have my respect, my admiration and deepest appreciation for what you do to teach and empower our young people to learn – about themselves, each other and the things they need to know to make their way in and contribute to the world.

I see my job as standing firmly between you and those who are misguided in their beliefs about what education is and just how hard it is to go about the job of educating our youth. Joe [Joseph Bruni, Superintendent] and I speak truth to power, we ask for your support, your ideas, your encouragement, insight and perspective. I have no doubt we can overcome whatever challenges lie ahead. So, let’s click our heels three times and let’s get going.

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