Selling out or getting a seat at the table

The other day, a friend posited a question on Facebook (paraphrased):

If called upon, would you take a job in an administration who's policies you strongly disagreed with?

Would you go work for an administration that you reviled in order to get a seat at the table? To try to affect change from the inside or would you consider yourself a sellout or worse, publicly promote positions you disagree with.

Tough question.

The original question implied national level positions. I've never and will never breath such rarefied air but I have had such experiences closer to ground level, both with DOE projects and also in conversations with some charter chains.

My take?

Anyone that knows me knows that I've had various dealings with the NYC DOE and also knows that those dealings never resulted in outcomes I was happy with. Over my time at Stuy, I had many philosophical differences with Tweed (a common nickname for the NYC DOE as they're housed in the old Tweed courthouse) and these were times where I tried to play nice to have a seat at the table.

Once I was at a meeting that also included a number of tech industry heavy hitters. After the meeting, one came over to me. He knew me by having worked with my former students. I knew him by reputation. He asked "do they really want our thoughts on this or are we just here so that they can do what they wanted in the first place and then parade us out to say that they consulted experts in the tech industry?" I honestly didn't know at the time but I had my doubts as to the DOE's sincerity in being open to either my views or this CTO's As it turned out, they just did want to parade us. Later in the process, I was told in a back room that it would be wise of me not to publicly voice my thoughts about the direction of one particular project.

So there you have it. I was given a seat at the table but only as long as my views mirrored the views of those in power. Not really much of a seat.

I've also sat down with some charter chains - chains that I've been more than happy to denounce publicly. Why did I take the meetings? Mostly to find out if I was mistaken in my position and if so, maybe I could help them. Every time I've had such a meeting, however, I've left the table with my feelings unchanged and knowing that I would never willingly help them as I felt their practices were harmful to kids.

In one case, I took the seat but failed to affect change. In the other I refused the seat. I'll always take a meeting and I'll always work with someone who wants to help kids and who has an open mind but I've found that the more powerful the player, at least in education, the more likely they are to just want confirmation of their own bias.

You might get a seat at the table but you also might end up lending your reputation to a cause you don't believe in.

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