Just Have Coffee

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Earlier this year Becca Bracy Knight , Executive Director of The Broad Center, threw down a positive challenge that she called @justhavecoffee ..

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.

Becca

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.

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

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“When somebody is doing actions you don’t like, the spiritual solution is to do what you can to stop them, but you do it in such a way that you do not reject the person. You reject the action, but not the person. That is a big one. You reject the action, but not the person…

I can disagree with actions that are not compassionate. But I want to keep my heart open. If I don’t, I am part of the problem, not part of the solution. And that’s just not interesting enough. That’s what the inner work is—to become part of the solution…

You don’t have to act out of anger in order to oppose something. You can act to oppose something because it creates suffering. You can become an instrument of that which relieves suffering, but you don’t have to get angry about it…

You can work with love. You can oppose somebody out of love. You can do social action out of love. And that’s the way you win the whole war, not just the battle.”

~ Ram Dass, “Winning the Battle, Losing the War: A Spiritual Perspective”

Dare To Dream

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight,

and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

~Oscar Wilde

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The Kid (Buddy Mondlock)

©1984 by EMI April Music, Inc./Sparking Gap Music (ASCAP)

I’m the kid who ran away with the circus

Now I’m watering elephants

But I sometimes lie awake in the sawdust

Dreaming I’m in a suit of light

Late at night in the empty big top

I’m all alone on the high wire

“Look he’s working without a net this time.

He’s a real death defy-er!”

I’m the kid who always looked out the windows

Failing tests in geography

But I’ve seen things far beyond just the school yard

Distant shores of exotic lands

There’re the spires of the Turkish Empire

It’s six months since we made land fall

Riding low with the spice of India

Through Gibraltar we’re rich men all!

I’m the kid who thought we’d someday be lovers

Always held out that time would tell

Time was talking — guess I just wasn’t listening

No surprise if you know me well

As we’re walking toward the train station

There’s a whispering rainfall

‘Cross the boulevard you slip your hand in mine

In the distance the train calls

I’m the kid who has this habit of dreaming

Sometimes gets me in trouble too

But the truth is I could no more stop dreaming

Than I could make them all come true

 

Legend of the Starfish

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“A vacationing businessman was walking along a beach when he saw a young boy. Along the shore were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned. The boy was walking slowly along the shore and occasionally reached down and tossed a beached starfish back into the ocean.

The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to the boy and said, “I have been watching what you are doing, son. You have a good heart, and I know you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around here and how many starfish are dying on every beach every day? Surely, such an industrious and kindhearted boy such as yourself could find something better to do with your time. Do you really think that what you are doing is going to make a difference?” 

The boy looked up at that man, and then he looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish, and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, “It makes a difference to that one.”

~ Adapted from The Unexpected Universe. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. pp. 67-92. By Loren Eiseley ©1964