Finding Our Voices

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When a leader is going the wrong way, teacher David Ellison says it's time for followers to find their own voices.

About 20 years ago, my school board hired a horrible superintendent. Having taught only Honors English for a few years, she had little experience with the real and pressing challenges facing most students, teachers, and site administrators. Nonetheless, she convinced herself that she knew best, and embarked on a campaign of arbitrary, misguided decrees. For example, adhering to a simplistic notion of high standards, she blithely mandated that all students, even learning disabled ones and recent immigrants, take a course of study that exceeded the entrance requirements for Stanford, and that they pass every single course with a C or better, or not receive a high school diploma.

It was ludicrous, of course. And even though I was but a lowly, new, junior administrator at the time, I told her so. Unfortunately, I spoke alone.

Afterward, many of my senior colleagues thanked me for my courage. I asked one why he hadn’t spoken up, too. He replied, “Well, the superintendent will hang herself on this, but I’ll still be here.” When I reminded him about all the kids she’d harm in the meantime, he just shrugged his shoulders and slunk away.

The board finally fired that superintendent, but not before she’d done irreparable harm. My hitherto silent colleagues broke out into song, “Ding, dong! The witch is dead!” The fault, however, was theirs, not hers.


You’ll understand if, given the shameful state of affairs in our nation’s capital, I’m experiencing a terrible sense of deja vu. Even so, I still find reason to hope. For instance, the youth of America, even those who are still too young to vote, have politically engaged as never before. Meanwhile, more women are running for office than ever before, too.

Perhaps the silver lining of these dire times is the fact that so many Americans have rediscovered their voices, and the courage to stand up and use them.

With a Perspective, I’m David Ellison.

David Ellison teaches American History and LGBTQ Studies in Union City.