Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jammin' and Blocking: Roller Derby as Metaphor for Change in Education

The pivots at the front of the pack set the pace. The blockers skate in a tight wall, looking for their jammer -- maybe they can pull her through for a chance to create a whip and sling their "girl" to the front, closing gaps to shut out the opposition. (One blocker had "Wrecking Ball" had bold letters splayed across her bottom, and she meant it too!) The jammers, those tough, fast, graceful jammers, slide right into the pack and thread their way through the crowd, dodging elbows and scooting under skaters who race shoulder to shoulder around the track. Once a jammer slips through, she races around the track to make her way through the wall of skaters again, ticking off points like a ball in a pinball game every time she passes someone. Hooey, there she goes again, circling the track in a blur, picking her way through the crowd, and wham! Some tattooed mama throws out a leg, and the jammer is down!

Having recently watched my first live event at the Houston Roller Derby, I have been thinking ever since about how the rough and tumble derby "girls" suggest a metaphor for those of us who work for change in education.

I like to think we are the jammers, our heads low and pushing straight into the pack of teachers and administrators who close ranks to shut us out, partly because they just need to get around the track and make it through the year. Anyone coming through? The blockers, who could be anyone, really, who is happy with the status quo, try every trick they own to stop us (and there are your allies, blockers too, who are trying to make a way for you to pass through the red tape and push back).  Those opposing blockers sure don't want anyone racing ahead and changing the pace of the game. We get through, not without a few bruises, and burst out of the pack only to rush around the track again. The world has changed in the last lap -- new obstacles in new configurations lie ahead. We race into the pack again, ready for everything the opposition will do to try to stop us. The blockers have regrouped -- maybe it's just a "crappy week for education," as Will Richardson describes our current troubles in his recent post on "The Wrong Conversations." Maybe the opposing blockers stop us with a body slam -- we should have seen it coming, that attack on reading relevancy in the digital world or that questionable kick from the latest cyber-scare, but we didn't, and down we go.

But, if we're lucky, we weave through the elbows and hips and start to rack up the points...engaged learning for our students, critical re-thinking for our teachers, ways to ratchet up the game to make education meaningful again.

Just call me Suicide Sue.