Understanding What is Happening
Having recently read the engaging and increasingly important book by Katherine Cramer, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, I recognized how the work I do with school leaders relates to the findings from Dr. Cramer's work. I would highly recommend this book to gain insight into recent developments in our country and in the state of Wisconsin more specifically. Even if you are not from Wisconsin, it is still very much worth reading since it now seems to be emblematic of politics and culture on a national scale.
Among many things, Dr. Cramer brings to light the resentment rural Wisconsin residents hold toward urban dwellers in the state. They feel ignored and wanting of the resources that they believe are disproportionately funneled to these urban areas. The cultural differences are stark. The rural participants see the urban dwellers, and public employees especially, as people who do not work as hard as they do but enjoy more financial circumstances.
Although the study in this book began ten years ago, the divide and resentment on which the book focuses are still strong today as shown by recent political developments in Wisconsin and the country.
WI DPI Leadership for Learning Project
Reading this book compelled me to write this post once I started making connections to the work we have been doing with schools across Wisconsin as part of the DPI Title I Leadership for Learning Project. This project has had principals from across the state use the CALL school leadership assessment and feedback system to gather information on school-wide instructional leadership practices to inform school improvement planning. Each year, participants in the project meet face-to-face (and virtually as well) to discuss their data and share their experiences in schools. This past year, principals from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) joined the project.
In the face-to-face meetings, principals from MPS talked with principals from a rural school districts in Wisconsin. They were engaged in rich conversations about school leadership challenges and practices. In one conversation, an MPS principal was amazed that her partner commuted over two hours each day to work and was the principal of two different buildings in the district. The rural area principal admired the MPS principal for the changes she has been able to implement and the progress she made in her struggling school.
It was such a pleasure to see these school leaders engaged in conversations about a subject that is universal: education. No matter how different their personal lives may be, or how distinct the cultural differences may be where they live, they found common ground in talking about school leadership challenges. Whether they work in a rural or urban setting, these school leaders could commiserate about: state-wide policy implications, working with district leadership, working with high poverty communities, and supporting students with learning challenges. Every school faces challenges. And while the contexts may be different, they still have the same mission: educate children.
Dr. Kramer's book reveals a sharp divide that has exists in Wisconsin and in our country. This divide is defined by politics, to be sure, but those political divisions are influenced by cultural differences and values. And these divisions persist and are fortified by our collective reluctancy to listen to people on the other side of that divide. And so perhaps, given the universal language and experience of educators the education realm, the breaking down of this division can be lead by them: educators and school leaders across regions and cultures, talking to each other, sharing experiences, learning about their differences, finding their commonalities, and demonstrating the art of connecting with others that is vacant from our society. We should look to educators to teach our children and us as well.