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Darling-Hammond: Time to Keep Our Hand on the Plow (Hold On!)

The 2017 AACTE Speaker Spotlight Session featured a rousing address from Linda Darling-Hammond, who encouraged educators to persist in their focus on educational equity and advocacy despite the barrage of obstacles and distractions in the current environment.

Although teacher educators have been hard at work and have much to celebrate, she said, there is not a moment to relax in confronting the challenges of the day. Citing issues such as child homelessness, access to healthcare, funding cuts, and policy centered on “testing without investing,” she urged attendees to step up their work with candidates to engage in equity-focused practices. Recent surges in racist and anti-immigrant incidents further hamper students’ well-being and ability to learn.

“This is a moment for explicit anti-racist teaching and anti-racist teacher education and action in all universities and public spaces,” Darling-Hammond said, noting that since the 2016 election, over two thirds of teachers report seeing an increase in fear, racial tensions, and hate speech in their schools.

Teachers need to remind children that their role as a teacher is to protect students, she said. While the recent election provides an opportunity to learn about our democratic process, and teachers should help students understand the significance of honoring the results of the election, Darling-Hammond said, they also must make sure students understand that bigotry is unacceptable and something worth fighting against. Teachers’ roles include promoting justice and equity in the classroom by teaching students how to fact-check, conduct adequate and credible research, and learn more about each other’s communities and cultures.

“This work is bigger than the work that most of us signed up for,” she said, “but it is the work that we have to do.”

She also noted that the current school-choice debate is not about being for or against charter schools. Rather, we should focus on fixing the conditions that cause students to be exploited into choosing a disinvested school.

“We need a system, if we are going to talk about choice, in which all schools are worth choosing, and all students are chosen,” Darling-Hammond said.

She also called for advocacy to help tackle teacher shortages through policy aimed at reducing attrition. If state and federal governments created incentives for teachers to enter the profession through quality preparation, she said, retention rates would improve, and more students would have access to effective teachers.

Darling-Hammond concluded her inspiring message by paying tribute to the work of AACTE President/CEO Sharon P. Robinson, whom Darling-Hammond called “deeply principled as a fighter for children and for a democratic system of education for our teachers and our schools of education, but in no case an apologist.” Encouraging all in attendance to act on this inspiration, Darling-Hammond offered words of wisdom from Maya Angelou, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Langston Hughes, closing with selections from Hughes’ poem “Freedom’s Plow”:

The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter row
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!

Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, is known as a top scholar on teaching quality and equity through her research and policy work, including leading the education policy transition team under the Obama Administration in 2008.

Watch the recorded session and view other content from the 69th Annual Meeting at the AACTE Learning Center.

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