“I need your help with a maybe dumb idea that could also maybe make a difference.
Earlier this week I met up with someone for coffee and we talked about the latest happenings in Newark, education policy, and the slippery slope of putting heavy cream into hot beverages. It was fun – I like connecting with other people in education and talking about big and small issues. What might surprise you is that the person I was talking and laughing with has been publicly critical of The Broad Foundation and “ed reformers” and was involved in a process that resulted in a confidential memo I wrote to board members ending up on the internet. So, yeah, Ken Libby was an unlikely edu-BFF for me. But I was following him on twitter, saw that he made a lot of really good points, had a sense of humor, and lived in my city. I emailed him and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee. I admit I was a little worried this might not go well, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was getting sick of the increasing cyber-snarkiness and general lack of dialogue among people in education and wanted to have some human interaction and perhaps even find some common ground. Turns out we agree about a lot more than we disagree about. And we have confirmed that neither of us is or works for the devil. Phew.
We both agreed that the simple act of more people actually talking in person one-on-one with someone they see as being on an opposing side or someone they assume they disagree about everything with or someone critical of their work would do a lot of good in an increasingly toxic environment in education. Personal attacks, dragging people’s families into the debate, refusing to open your mind even a little to an alternative viewpoint, refusing to acknowledge that you or your organization ever makes mistakes – all of that is inhumane and ineffective.
We want to start an informal campaign to encourage anyone working in education to meet up with 3 people they do not normally talk with, see as allies, or even agree with. Just go out for coffee with 3 different people. Talk with them. See what happens. If you feel like it, share how it goes. It might not change the world, but then again…it might.
I’m writing to you since you are someone I know and respect — and someone who other people in education respect and listen to. If you and everyone else who is getting this email does this and writes/posts/tweets about it, we can get a lot more people on board! While this is not a formal thing, we do have two things that might help it spread – a hashtag and a tumblr account: #justhavecoffee and justhavecoffee.tumblr.com (which I’ll put some other thoughts on as soon as I figure out how to use tumblr).
What do you think – good idea? dumb idea? Will you try it? #justhavecoffee
If you’re in, please share the idea with folks in your network and maybe 2014 can be a better year for everyone.
P.S. As Ken pointed out, some people may be so isolated in their respective “camps” that they don’t actually know people to just have coffee with. We’re playing around with the idea of using the tumblr site or some other way to actually help match people up who want to broaden their circles. In the meantime, if you’re fired up for coffee but don’t know anyone to ask, email us and we’ll try to help from our networks.”
Patrick R. Riccards, “We Have Met the Enemy. and…” 2/14/14
I think this is a good idea, but the conversations will only be productive if people (myself included) are willing to listen and reflect upon the ideas and opinions expressed, rather than deflect and discard them.
When I engage in dialogue with people I disagree with, the conversation very often becomes more of a debate, and I will focus primarily on confirming my assumptions and undermining their arguments rather than trying to understand another perspective.
You do not have to agree with another person or even support their position in order to understand their perspective. If I would like someone to “see” a situation from my point of view, than I should certainly make an effort to better understand theirs.
The 140 character limit of Twitter does not lend itself to meaningful conversation, but Twitter could serve as a conversation starter. I have a tendency to mostly Tweet to the choir or if I do Tweet to the “enemy”, it is mostly just to express my views or challenge theirs.
In the spirit of Becca’s Just have Coffee initiative, I am going to make an effort to include people on both sides of the ed reform debate in more of my Tweets. My purpose is not to start an argument but “introduce” people who may not have Tweeted before, and perhaps planting the seed of discussions that will continue outside the Twitterverse.
From my perspective, ed reform feels like sitting in the back seat of a car that is moving too quickly and the driver keeps taking wrong turns down dead end streets because his national Common Core GPS system is not properly calibrated for driving local streets.
Increasing numbers of teachers are jumping out of this misguided ed reform car and trying to get in front of it, though they risk getting “hurt” in the process.
At the same time, it is important to continue to engage in dialogue with the various drivers and since they don’t have experience navigating local roads, take advantage of any opportunity to help with directions, and be ready to take the wheel when they grow tired.