The Price For Speaking Your Mind About School

The New York Post did a hatchet job on Lisa Nielsen in particular and, in general, on anyone with unconventional views about how children learn and how adults can help them. Nielsen, a vocal supporter of alternative schools and alternatives to schools, apparently cannot think and speak freely about such educational options and philosophies outside of her work without being publicly humiliated by those who fear and belittle anything that isn’t part of conventional schooling.

Like John Gatto, who had to constantly watch his back as a teacher while he helped children learn in ways schools does not allow (he became NY State and NY City Teacher of the Year for doing so), Nielsen is being unfairly targeted for holding different views about education—views that are also supported by professional educators, professors of education, politicians, parents, and children, too. To me, the most unfair element in the article is the photo used by the Post; it shows empty wine glasses in front of a jubilant Nielsen; it turns out the photo is from Nielsen’s 40th birthday party, but there is no indication of this in the article, so a reader may conclude this is how she is at work! Further, they go out of their way to belittle Nielsen by mocking her work and comments by taking them out of context—you would never guess that she has lots of educational evidence on her side—and the link to the Post article includes this identifier: “ed big is class clown.”

Nielsen's blog is called The Innovative Educator: Way Outside the Box and it is easy to see from it that Nielsen “promotes boycotting the very same standardized tests her agency administers,” supports homeschooling, and doesn’t support the Common Core. Apparently these are all firing offenses, at least to these reporters. They seem to think that education is a targeted medicine to be administered by trained professionals only in schools, and anyone who tries to do something different is a quack who must be sued or run out of town.

Education is full of different approaches and philosophies; if only the reporters took a more open-minded view and actually interviewed Nielsen to learn why she thinks the way she does and why people, in and out of school, support similar positions (there are many in schools who think as Nielsen does, but they don’t speak up as clearly and openly as Nielsen). Instead, we get a nasty article that smugly insinuates the conventional, “teach them and test them,” approach is the only way to go. Thankfully, so far, the NYC Department of Education has not lost the spirit of true inquiry, as this quote at the end of the article indicates: “The department is always open to working with people with different ideas,” said spokeswoman Erin Hughes.”