Archive for July, 2014

WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO?

July 13, 2014 Comments Off on WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO? General

Honeysuckle

WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO?

Why do so many educators struggle to believe that their advocacy makes a difference for children? When I speak with groups of educators about child advocacy, I often hear some variation of the question, “What good does it do?” The teachers and administrators who ask this question usually have stories of futile attempts to create change in their schools. These stories often include common problems – they were criticized or chastised by others, or they could not engage their colleagues in the process, or the modest changes they fought hard to make were unpopular and short-lived. I can understand their frustration – anyone who tries to advocate for meaningful social change can understand it! People who stand up and speak out about righting wrongful situations in their institutions or communities may quickly encounter opponents and detractors. And trying to improve the welfare of vulnerable children can be particularly contentious because children’s needs are so often immersed in adult values and community or institutional politics. Many educators are not willing to expose themselves to conflict on behalf of the children in their schools or programs, especially when they believe that the professional risks they take would not be balanced with guaranteed results. Nothing is really going to change, they might say, so why bother?

I recently had the opportunity to reflect on the “why bother” question in my own backyard. As an enthusiastic summer gardener, I frequently gain inspiration for the value of advocacy from my plants and flowers. I love honeysuckle and have a large vine of it growing on a corner of my back deck. It’s the plain white and yellow variety we encounter in nature – very fragrant and robust. A few years ago, while shopping at a garden store, I decided to purchase an unusual pink and gold honeysuckle vine. Later that day, I planted it right next to the existing honeysuckle near my deck. Within a week it was apparent that my new pink and gold plant was covered with aphids – it soon withered and appeared to die. The following spring, a few shoots came up from the plant but they quickly faded in the early summer. I decided that the plant was now dead and that there was nothing further I could do.

Last winter was really cold, and it took longer than usual for my honeysuckle to bloom this June. When it finally did – I was amazed to see that a strand of the pink and gold honeysuckle had somehow survived and woven itself into the large clump of my white and yellow variety. I don’t know how it happened but somehow one strand has now brightened up the whole vine. That’s a photograph of it up above!

As I thought about this phenomenon, I realized that change really does require time and that the changes that take place most often don’t look exactly like the ones we envisioned. I had initially thought that my new pink and gold plant would thrive next to the regular honeysuckle, filling an empty spot near my deck. Three years later, after a few misfires, it is thriving – but not in the location or the way that I had intended. It finally reflected my effort to beautify my honeysuckle display – but it did so in a form that had also been affected by forces I could not see and did not control.

This to me was a reminder that ego should not be the center of advocacy for others. Our accomplishment ultimately lies in the integrity and authenticity of our endeavor to make change. The force of our effort will be joined by other forces, many or all of which we may be unaware. The final result, which we eagerly sought, can never belong to us alone. In fact over time few may know we had anything to do with it — others may get the ultimate credit. Still, in advocacy as in gardening, it is clear that our hard work and good intentions do make a contribution to the world.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children