Education Reform in a Mann’s World


by Tanesha Dixon

Tanesha is a native New Yorker living and learning in Richmond, VA. She serves as an Assistant Director of Student Affairs for a private university where she saves undergrads from the fun college mistakes we all made. Tanesha is also an education activist, free thinker & fan of all things Octavia Butler. 
Horace Mann (May 4, 1796 – August 2, 1859) was an American educational reformer and Whig politician dedicated to promoting public education. He served in the Massachusetts State legislature (1827–1837). Educational historians credit Horace Mann as father of the Common School Movement.

Fighting for educational equality means we are willing and able to dissect and examine its structure on a continuum. Improving college readiness means understanding disparities in early childhood literacy. Criticism of post-college preparedness requires educators to be critical of the pipelines our students navigate at every academic, economic, and political crossroad. If activism serves to promote reform along these measures with hope to improve society, then in my concern for educational accessibility across race, class, gender, and many other identities, the concept of education as “a great equalizer of the conditions of men” is at best, a presumptuous ideal and at worst, extremely cliché.

I am familiar with this overused quote from Horace Mann, and ashamed as an educator to know very little about his place in American history and education. I do some quick research of the northern politician-abolitionist-education reformer, looking for untapped context around Mann’s overused edict. Education as a public good? Agree. Treat education as a respected profession and equip the field with trained, qualified teachers? No argument there. Schools as venues to build character and a training ground for workforce development? Between my understanding and criticism of the history of urban education according to Tyack and my place in higher education, often tasked with preparing young adults to think, communicate, and lead in business and industry, I can get behind that.

Let’s come back to this “conditions of men” part, Horace. Picture it: America, 1848. The “conditions” of our nation were not our among our men’s shining moments. Mann was not looking past the conditions of less fortunate white men–farmers, factory workers, the occasional adolescent derelict but otherwise, your good Christians to reform education. His education activism was to serve “men”—100% (white, cisgender) men, not those three-fifths not-quite-human men and certainly not the likes of my black womanhood. As he stated in his report to the Massachusetts State Board of Education, “some men are to toil and earn, others to seize and enjoy… but all should have an equal chance for earning.” Come on, Mann. #notallmen, I guess.

I also am trying to understand the conditions in which men across economic disparities would become equal at the hands of well-trained, likely well-off, teenage women. This is during a time—1848, 2017, whatever—where women were not trusted with much of anything. Voting? Defending our country’s freedoms? Vying to be the leader of the free world? Nope, no can do. Paying and training women to equalize the conditions of men and society? An idea that just might work. According to Horace’s reform, it’s a Mann’s world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl…because who else is going to teach these white children? I wonder who was equalizing the conditions among the women of color who were educating their villages, building their children’s character, preparing them for the farce of their perpetual servitude workforce in 1848? Spoiler: it wasn’t Mann.

I’m telling you what you already know, or have considered in your educator subconscious. Education is in shambles and we reformers—teachers, educators, counselors, activists, and politicians—make daily attempts to answer the million-dollar question. A steal, really, when your Secretary of Education DeVos proposes to reduce Department funding by $9 billion, but still wants you to rest assured knowing that she and the Administration will “ensure every student has an equal opportunity to receive a great education,” even the “educational needs of the nation's most vulnerable students, including poor and minority students and students with disabilities.”

Educators, who comes to mind when you think of education reform and activism? I think of people like Septima Clark, Ruby Bridges, and Ms. Rosa, the woman who would sneak the hot chocolate machine from her overnight job at BP for the school holiday party. I’m not saying Horace Mann was trash or anything but if he’s considered the father of American public education, shouldn’t I know his name and legacy? Why isn’t his work in my historical toolbox as an educator?


TRUST is the magic friend of Uncertainty


By Jessica Leigh-Lyons

Jessica Leigh Lyons is a coach, a facilitator, and a writer who helps people create an Internal Compass that guides them on their life path so that they can navigate big life decisions with confidence and clarity. You can find more on

There you are, kayaking down the river of life. Let’s call her Uncertainty. Maybe you know EXACTLY where you’re going. Maybe you have no freaking clue, and the fog is so thick, you’ve stopped paddling while you wait it out. You feel calm, but alert, paying attention to any clues that might speak to your next “right” step.Suddenly, a huge ugly toad tries to crawl up onto your kayak. Doubt has made his entrance. Doubt starts whispering to you that you have no idea where you are, that you’ve not grown enough, that you’re not worthy of the next step and don’t have the right qualifications.

Recognizing the difference between uncertainty and doubt is critical in tackling our dreams, big projects, and authentic connection. As Doubt crawls up, you panic. Your throat gets tight and fear drops like a stone in your belly. In your fear, you take your paddle and ferociously beat on the Doubt toad.

GET OUTTA MY BOAT, you scream.

Or MAYBE, you get lethargic and can’t think or move. You feel like a failure. Doubt is so heavy that your boat gets stuck in the muck of the river. A client recently told me she loves the adventure of life, the uncertainty, but doubt cripples her. Every. Time. This nuance is critical. If you want to get out from under doubt and back to the the adventure, there are some tried and true steps to get your kayak moving again.

1. Get intimate with Doubt and Uncertainty. If you don’t know what it feels like in your body, you’re more likely to be afraid of it. A meditation teacher recently asked, “What is being known?” As Doubt creeps in, what happens?

When I feel doubt, I get nervous. I bite my nails. I find myself scanning Facebook to *see* but not engage. There’s a list that builds in the back of my mind, but I don’t take action. I get fearful of all of the rejection that’s headed my way. I start listing my failures. So much Doubt.

2. Name it. First, you needed to reflect on what it feels like to experience doubt. You can’t name it if you don’t know what it feels like. This is a step in building your emotional diversity. Just like biodiversity keeps a healthy biome, studies like this one show you need to practice knowing the nuances of your emotions.

3. De-permanent it. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, she points to the power of feeling like a condition you’re experiencing is permanent: recognizing that we’re not at fault. Instead of using language like I AM doubtful, use language like I’m experiencing doubt or I’m feeling doubt. This subtle but significant language difference helps our brains make an important switch. When we say I am doubt, I am fearful, etc, we make ourselves think that’s what we ARE that emotion. We are not. Experiencing our emotions allows us to see that it will pass, realizing it will not last forever.

4. Try reframing it. Often, when we name emotions like Doubt, we take the heaviness out of the equation. We can now paddle our kayaks, even with Doubt squatting in the back. It’s less heavy. We see our Doubt for what it is, but we don’t let it stop us. “I’m nervous as heck for this job interview, and I can see that Doubt is creeping in.” Choosing Uncertainty has an element of trust and curiosity that Doubt does not.

5. Stretch your Trust muscles. One of my favorite hands-on exercises is to get to an improv class. The entire process is uncertain. You have no idea what your teammates will say next and you have to roll with it. Make a dinner without following a recipe. Schedule an outing with a friend withOUT a plan. Follow your instincts for an afternoon. Build more Uncertainty into your life AND WATCH how you build your Trust muscles.

One thing I’m certain of: the more we know our own distinctions between Doubt and Uncertainty, the more we build connections and communities where Uncertainty is celebrated and supported in deep, humbling trust.  I’d love to know where you’re noticing your Doubt. Where are you embracing Uncertainty?  

To the next riverbend you’re navigating,


How to Make Navigating Uncertainty Fun


By Jessica Leigh Lyons

Jessica Leigh Lyons is a coach, a facilitator, and a writer who helps people create an Internal Compass that guides them on their life path so that they can navigate big life decisions with confidence and clarity. You can find more on

As an elementary school teacher, my days consisted of lesson plans, laughter, and inquisitive questions by ten year olds. But when I hit burnout, I decided to make a change.  I woke up to find myself in a cubicle with coffee, my computer, by myself with my thoughts. At first, I was overjoyed by the silence. That didn’t last long. As time wore on,I felt a twisting sensation of anxiety and a dull panic that never left accompanied by an ever-whispering question: What do you want?

Truth be told, I had no idea.

I started calling it the fog of uncertainty and I began searching for how we navigate through unknown times. Sometimes uncertainty arises from external events like a storm.  Our partner gets a job in a new city and we move or we suffer a devastating loss of a loved one and it rearranges our world. Other times, uncertainty is like the current in the ocean. It’s internal and below the surface. We have a thought, a doubt, or a fear creep across our mind and suddenly, we feel unsure about how to proceed.

When life feels uncertain and we can’t see around the corner, many of us have a habit of getting anxious. This is normal, because ur brains are designed to be mindless. For example, you don’t have to think about when to take your next breath while you’re reading this, your brain naturally does so. If we had to think through everything that our bodies needed to function, we’d never get to put our passion into the world. However, when our brain happens across a circumstance that it doesn’t have previous data for, it panics. When we feel like we are drowning in “what if” or “what might have been”, we go back to play with “what is possible”. Choose an innocuous statement and then try three different types of responses. Let your brain shut it down and notice how you stop yourself when you’re feeling uncertain.

1. Try on your “NO”

I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market. No, I can’t write my blog for ringlet market because I have too many deadlines on my plate right now. No, I can’t write my blog for ringlet market because I’m having writer’s block.

2. Then try “Yes, but…” I’m going for a run today. Yes, I’d like to run today, but I don’t have enough time in the schedule. because I don’t have enough time. Yes, I’d like to run today, but I don’t have any workout clothes clean. Etc.

3. Use YES, AND!

I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market. I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market AND I’m going to include an improv game. Yes, I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market and I’m going to include an improv game AND I’m super excited to talk about navigating uncertainty. Yes, I’m super excited to be talking about navigating uncertainty AND to tell people that it’s NORMAL so we learn to PLAY instead of get anxious.

You can use different statements or play with the same statement. The trick here is to allow your brain to play with possibilities so that you can learn to navigate uncertainty with ease.

What Brings You Here?

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By Tenesha L. Johnson, MA.Ed

Tenesha L. Johnson was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, NY, where she lives with a true passion to educate children and young adults. Her professional background has led her to dedicate more than 14 years to higher education in a variety of leadership and advocacy roles at colleges and universities throughout the tri-state area. Tenesha currently serves as a counselor and lecturer for the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program at CUNY York College. Prior to joining CUNY, she served as the Assistant Director of Residence Life for Judicial Affairs at Saint Peter’s University and Health Professions counselor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. She’s also served as an adjunct lecturer at four-year and community colleges throughout New York and New Jersey.
For the past several years she has served in a leadership capacity with anti-bullying campaigns, The Girl Scouts of America, current and former board member of Blossom Sisters Dance and Performing Arts Center, as well as B.A.S.I.C.S International. Tenesha is an active member of the Long Island Beta Psi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. In 2013, she founded an organization called The Dancing Nerve, a dance arts program for children and adults living with a disability. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies and Business Administration, as well as two graduate degrees in Educational Leadership and Supervision, and School Counseling. She is currently pursuing an advanced certificate in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

As the new school year approaches, educators from across the nation will ask a classroom of student’s one of the more important questions they’ll be probed to answer in their lifetime.

 ~ What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? ~

Many students will respond with one of the familiar prestigious career choices. I’ll be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer or maybe a nurse. While naming their professional goals is sure to spark a lively and full conversation, I wonder if we, as educators often overlook the importance of helping our students dig deeper into the motivation(s) of their pursuit. Have we been honest about all that it takes to reach that goal? More importantly, have we forgone the candid conversation about how a student’s drive for success has the ability to impact their long term achievement?

An early conversation during my Freshman Seminar courses at CUNY York College has always been, tell me what brings you here? New collegiate scholars, you could’ve been anywhere else in the world today, but you’re here with me. Why? You’re making a commitment for the next four years, only to have your name printed on nice paper and placed in an expensive wooden frame? Let’s not forget the possibility of the enormous debt that may follow you for the next few decades. Are you sure about this? What will make you different from the college student 2000 miles from home who graduated with a “nice paper” in their hand as well?

The most common responses I hear are, a) I’d like to make enough money take care of my family b) this is a family tradition c) I’m not sure why I’m here, in fact I’d rather be working instead.

These are all honest and transparent responses for new students in transition. Now, now where do we go from here?

The truth is, this generation has been charged with the task of navigating a fast changing world of economic and social uncertainty we’ve not seen in many decades. The road to success is quite congested with students and their families that all want the same thing that you want. SUCCESS!

If our students’ motivation before they arrived at the final destination is led solely by material gain, what will happen when their dreams aren’t realized as planned? How do we help prepare our graduates for the day after graduation?

I believe that a motivation led by the student in the driver’s seat, is what has the potential to set an employee apart from other candidates in a large competitive work force. Academic preparedness and the strengthening of hard and soft skills; including purposeful networking and professional relationship building can be part of what offers the foundation for resilience when the internship/job interview falls through. A clear motivation is what will help our students “Bounce Back” and persist in the face of disappointment.

While the diploma/degree provides evidence of their commitment to the completion of a task, it doesn’t always indicate all that they’re capable of when plans veer off the straight dotted line.

It’s our hope that each educator will be intentional in sowing seeds of confident, capable and spirited energy into their students, as they pursue their individual success and accomplishment.

Education is Activism- Part Two

By Shannon McFadden


            I did not expect to write this soon, but the events that took place in Charlottesville, VA got my Twitter fingers moving. Charlottesville, VA 2017, is reminiscent of Charlottesville, VA 1997, 1977, 1957, 1937, 1917, and 1897. The astonishing thing to me, is the fact that we, as card-carrying Americans, are surprised that this can be going on in America. Now. How could this demonstration of hatred and bigotry happen now? The answer is quite elementary, my dear: education.

            When I was a student in elementary school, we learned about American History, from the perspective of good, God-fearing Christians. Those who believed in the creed that all men were created equal, and that Jesus is the perfect example of humanity. Fast forward to middle school. American history, and the watered down version of the Trail of Tears, the Slave Experience, and the glowing reviews of the Forefathers. The Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution were discussed at length, yet, the stories of the oppressed were glossed over. There is a saying: history is told from the side of the winner. In the American education system, we are not the authors of our stories. There are no Native American history books, discussing the brutal murder of an entire people, all in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. No Japanese American history books, discussing the Holocaust-type conditions of America, circa 1940s. There is nothing discussing how Pacific Islanders were treated in the same fashion of Native Americans, where their homes made the “perfect” military base. Not to mention the lack of information on the Mexican inhabitants of Texas. Our students only learn history, from the aspect of white supremacy, which creates a sense of false superiority and false inferiority.

            In urban centers, there are so many opportunities to learn history, from different viewpoints. We live in areas where knowledge is overflowing. Everyone has a computer in their hands, where researching a topic can happen in minutes. We are afforded the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life, where traditions are held close, but evolution is welcome. This is not true for many Americans. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. In Calvert County, MD. In Shacklefords, VA. Where the only exposure one has to history, is through the public school system, the private school system, and homeschool. With this being the case, it is impossible to understand differing viewpoints, as only one point is taught. History books are written by publishers, who want to promote the idea of one America, and know the only way to instill this ideology, is through education.

            What are teachers to do? Well, first, we need to refute the lie. There are several different versions of the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of the Irish. Aspects of American history, which are deemed as “ugly”, have been given less and less space in American history. How many of you actually learned about the concentration camps, full of Japanese Americans, in America? With little time spent on learning history, each generation is unable to fully connect and relate to each other. This is how Charlottesville, VA occurs. There are so many children, yearning to learn the truth, to understand why their parents are so adamant about preserving a “rich” history. We are seeing nothing new. We are seeing the product of propaganda that is being taught to our children, through a free and appropriate public education.   As teachers, we need to combat the notion that the book is right. The book is not right. We need to use our teacher unions to fight for a fairer version of history. We need to pull together our resources, and promote the telling of stories from the side of the oppressed, the loser.

            Howard Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which discusses the founding of the American educational system. It discusses how education was created to maintain the social status of the upper class. As more poor whites fought for respect, the school system began to evolve. As teachers, I charge you to read this book. This is how we understand our role. We are liberators. How can we liberate, if we settle for modified history, where liberation is not at the forefront. We are disgusted by the acts of bigotry, yet we allow the stories of the oppressed to go untold. We are the tellers of these stories. Teach your students about the Crusades, and create lessons connecting the Crusades to World War 1 and 2. Explain to them the role America played in combating Nazism, while there are Americans who follow that ideology. This is not about Black and white. This is about teachers stepping up, and declaring that we will not continue to enslave the minds of our youth. We are here to expand their thoughts, their outlook on life, and to give a voice to the voiceless. Activism begins in the classroom. Activism begins with us.