VIVA Teachers leader Freeda Pirillis in the New York Times

Fresh off being featured in our blog, Freeda Pirillis makes it into the New York Times, in quote and image:

 “You can continue to say you’re accountable for x, y and z,” said Freeda Pirillis, a first-grade teacher at Agassiz Elementary School in Chicago. “But if you don’t support teachers and students in that work, then that’s just an empty sort of thing.” She noted, for example, that “we continue to have textbooks in our school that show that Bill Clinton was our last president.”

Read the full article here.

A Democracy Needs Authenticity

Where is the authenticity in American government?

As I indulged in my weekly obsession—Sunday morning news talk shows—I was struck by the lack of candor spewing forth. These media-trained, on-message politicians and political commentators told us next to nothing that could be considered authentic information about our country, the campaign or the future. I turned off the television in dismay.

Photo: Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Demanding pre-approval

I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. After all, the New York Times on Monday bared its journalistic soul with a story called “Last Word on the Trail? I Take It Back.” The story, which caused quite an uproar among non-Beltway journalists, revealed that high-level politicians now demand to approve their quotes before they can be used in print.  The writer, Jeremy W. Peters, blamed it on “a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture.”

Whatever the reason, I don’t think this can be good for our society, our government or our future.

Authentic Teacher Voices
That’s why I am so proud of the VIVA Teachers who share their time, their ideas and their authentic voice with us as part of our VIVA Idea Exchanges. And glad that American government still has at least a few public  leaders who believe in leadership that requires them to workable solutions not just shouting louder and more dogmatically.

Being authentic comes with risk. At the top political levels, they risk taking a hit during one ever-shortening news cycle. At the classroom, school and district level, our teachers sometimes risk their very jobs by speaking out.

We do our best to protect them from scrutiny. The VIVA Idea Exchange displays only their first name, last initial and (usually) what they teach. But there’s always the risk of an unusual name combined with a teaching specialty and a motivated person could figure out who is talking.

Worth the risk
At a recent national meeting of nonprofits helping teachers find their own public voice,  some of the bold teachers who have volunteered their time and talent with other organizations shared the risks they take—bloggers who get “flamed” on the Internet, policy agitators who have had their pay docked for attending meetings, teachers who speak out and are spurned by colleagues or punished by public administrators.  Yet, each of those teachers raised their authentic voice because they believed it was in the best interests of their students and their profession.

That’s the kind of passion our country needs. That’s the kind of courage that is required of a leader. That’s the authentic voice that can make a difference.

If a classroom teacher can do it, shouldn’t we expect the same from the people who lead this country?