Columbia, SC — What can they do to you? Whatever they want.
Lines from Marge Piercy’s The Low Road repeated in my head as I attended the recent Horry County School Board meeting to honor Blackwater Middle School Principal Candace Lane, who was receiving the national Courage Medallion of Integrity. Even more meaningful than that medallion was the standing ovation she received from the school board and the audience.
It is not often that one of our school leaders receives national recognition, not because they are undeserving, but because South Carolina public education is not valued. Yet I realized, looking around the packed room, that a quiet courage-in-schools movement is taking place.
It’s overdue, given the assaults the teaching profession is facing from everyone from the Congress down through local school boards. What can the they do to you? Anything they want. They can offer waivers, demand you use “teacher-proof” scripts, make decisions about children and curriculum without your input, ignore your professional knowledge and experience, expect you to put your job before your own health and family.
Alone, teachers can’t really change any of this. But a growing number of teachers and school leaders, quietly supported by superintendents, district leaders and board members, are creating professional learning communities and changing school culture to one of trust and partnership with parents and the community.
Rather than sit back as national and state leaders threaten the demise of public schools, community leaders are reaching for the qualities for which Lane was recognized by the International Courage Collaboration, affiliated with the Center for Courage & Renewal: agency, authenticity and courage. As center founder Parker Palmer writes: “New leadership is needed for new times, but it will not come from finding more wily ways to manipulate the external world. It will come as we who serve and teach and lead find the courage to take an inner journey toward both our shadows and our light — a journey that, faithfully pursued, will take us beyond ourselves to become healers of a wounded world.”
When national facilitator Sandie S. Merriam asked who in the school board meeting had participated in courage-in-schools programs, about two-thirds of the audience stood. And I felt pride in being a South Carolinian by birth and by choice — and a product of South Carolina public education.
Sally Z. Hare