Ok, so we just got through January and I’m wondering  how many people are sticking with their New Year’s diet? Statistically that number is already somewhere in the 20% range. We are terrible at sticking with things that suddenly and dramatically alter our life patterns. Let’s face it. Eating like a grazing deer is not satisfying. We are genetically wired to like sugar and fat. A plate of Buffalo Wild Wings teriyaki wings is preferable to a plate of leaves picked from a field.  Toss in some garlic bread or french fries and I’m in heaven.

Most people can tolerate harsh conditions when they know there is an end in sight. That is why most diets work, for a while. Lots of folks can survive a cleanse or a low carb induction phase. We will put up with the suffering for a while because we can envision what the results will be. And many extreme diets do produce good short term results. If they didn’t, no one would still be trying to lose weight by eating nothing but grapefruit for two weeks.

But we are not so good at sticking with it.  That is why health counselors advise people to stop dieting and instead focus on making lifestyle changes. The idea is to focus more on the long term benefits of what you are doing rather than the short term sacrifices you are making to get there.

I recently spoke at the Education Policy Conference in St. Louis about what the grassroots can do to push back against common core. I only had 13 minutes to speak so I didn’t get to put this in my presentation, but I wanted to share it with all the grassroots activists out there. We need to think about education activism like health counselors tell us to think about dieting.

Lots of people can summon the energy to make one, two, maybe even three big pushes in grassroots activism. We are motivated by our vision of what our effort could produce. What is hard is sticking with the personal (and financial) sacrifice for the long haul. And our opponents have stocked up for the long haul. They have paid staff and deep pockets to fight us.

However, like a diet that suddenly and dramatically alters our lifestyle, jumping into the fray on common core can alter your lifestyle.  Just as we are surrounded by food that is a temptation while on a diet, we can find ourselves surrounded by information and opportunities  regarding common core and related educational issues that we feel obligated to act upon. Suddenly we are out giving presentations or responding to a torrent of emails, or calling our state representatives. Between yahoo groups, message boards, Facebook, Twitter, regular e-mails and phone calls, the stream of information can feel like a fire hydrant at times. It can feel overwhelming and burn out is a real possibility.

Then, just like the extreme dieter who begins fantasizing about eating an entire pizza, we can find ourselves fantasizing about chucking it all in and just gardening, or shopping.

The weight will never come off.
The corporate interests in common core are too strong.
The pounds will just come back.
Mike Huckabee will convince the Chief State School Officers to rebrand common core and it will come back again, like a zombie pizza delivery guy on Friday night.

We can be tempted to go from 70 mph to zero because it seems too hard to keep doing it all.

So my advice to those out there helping in this noble fight, a battle divided along ideological lines about the purpose of education, is to think of your grassroots advocacy like diet lifestyle changes. To have the stamina to stay in the battle, you must have balance within your life. You must make sure to keep your family at the forefront. Do not miss those concerts and plays, or teacher conferences. Make time to exercise and sleep. Avoid the temptation to make every conversation with friends about common core.

We will not solve the problems in education with one massive grassroots push. It will require a lifestyle change. Just as a dieter will never be able to go back to eating all the desserts she ate in her twenties with no consequences, a parent advocating for their child can never go back to assuming the school is always going to operate in their child’s best interest. They cannot go back to sleep and let the schools run on autopilot.  The school’s goals (efficiency, compliance, high scores on standardized tests) are not necessarily our goals. The factors affecting their decisions regarding education are not the factors affecting our decisions for our children. It would be nice if they thought like us, but they don’t, so accept it.



Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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