How They Silence Us: An ABC Primer

As the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act begins to take effect nationwide, the proverbial you-know-what is beginning to hit the fan.

Parents and teachers are discovering that all the talk about “returning decision making to states” was a bunch of hooey,  and that even though their state may have ditched Common Core, or replaced PARCC or SBAC with another brand-name test, profit-driven education reforms are moving forward at lightning speed.

Consultants, electronic devices, personalized learning plans, and standards-based grading software are closing in on districts everywhere, leaving many parents and teachers up in arms and eager to speak up.

Unfortunately, they are ready with an arsenal of tricks to keep us quiet.

Here are a few ways they may try to silence you as you try to take a stand, and a few ideas to help break through the barriers

1. A is for Asking for “Input”

Sure, there are some who actually want to hear what you have to say – but they are rarely those in the driver’s seat.

In order to keep you from quibbling too much with their plans, reformers (consultants, politicians, etc), will often elicit your “feedback” or “input” on their plans (which are already set in stone).

For teachers, this often means being asked to write things down on chart paper or sticky notes during meetings.


For parents, this may mean spaghetti dinners or emails from the state commissioner asking you to fill out a survey.


The idea is for them to take this information back to the boardroom and decide how best to communicate to you the plans they’ve already drawn up.

My advice: Bypass the sticky notes and surveys and contact power players directly.  Get a big group together to attend the board meeting and speak up together. Video tape it with your phone and post it online.  Repeat.

2. B is for Blaming

Don’t like the new learning management system?  Concerned about the new grading policy?  Frustrated by the new curriculum?

This is because you haven’t been implementing these things properly.

My advice: Ask to visit a district where all of the new reforms are being “fully” implemented with fidelity.  Keep asking until they have to admit that there is nowhere, actually, that is successfully implementing all of the reforms they want to see.

3. C is For Calling Names

Have you been called stupid, mean, crazy, nasty, immature, foolish, etc… all because you’ve done some research on what’s happening to public schools and are worried about what is happening to your district?

Have you researched education reform for hours upon hours, and then, when you finally got the nerve to share what you’ve learned with others, got called a “conspiracy theorist”?



Yeah, me too.

My advice: Shrug it off, hug your kids or your pets, and think of it as a win.  People call names when they can’t think of a way to refute what you are telling them, so you’ve either struck a nerve or proven your point.  Well done.

4. S is for Shaming

How dare you try to tear apart our community!  How dare you question what is meant only for the good of the children!  How dare you question distinguished politicians or intellectuals! That’s not just wrong – it’s stupid and selfish.

Who do you think you are, anyway?

In my mind, there isn’t a lower blow someone can commit than trying to make another feel ashamed of themselves for speaking their mind.

My advice: Keep speaking your mind.  We need more people who do.

Clearly, this is only the tip of iceberg.  Please comment with other letters as you think of them.

And remember: the revolution won’t be televised.






Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

3 thoughts on “How They Silence Us: An ABC Primer”

  1. You made me laugh about the sticky notes! Have we been to the same meetings? I live in your area and would love to meet you sometime and discuss this further. Keep up the good work!


    1. I hear you Emily. My colleagues used to look at me funny, but the more articles I throw at them, the fewer funny looks I get. When I asked the district director of literacy for research on Achieve 3000, she responded that yes, they have research, “but it’s very complicated”… nothing like a backhanded compliment! I have also noticed that many superintendents and higher admin have Ed D’s, and often have business backgrounds… coincidence? I think not.


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