Rocking The BoatTask Zero, ReviewRocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble by Debra E. Meyerson is a book written for individuals who feel that they don’t necessarily “fit in” with the organization in which they work and who “walk a fine line between challenging the established norms and upholding them.” These individuals want to effect change within their organizations for various reasons and usually do so by balancing their agendas for change with their own identities and values. These people who are often cautious and committed change agents are often referred to as "tempered radicals". Tempered radicals are at odds with the dominant culture because of their values, beliefs, or social identities - primarily race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. Tempered radicals try to affect change by working within systems rather that outside or against them. They are often “pulled in opposing directions: toward conformity and toward rebellion.” This can create tension and cause some ambivalence toward their organizations. It is this tension that they often battle, trying to balance deviation with conformity, thereby not “rocking the boat.” This ambivalence can also lead people to behave in different ways ranging from escaping to anger. Tempered radicals usually successfully navigate “a middle ground. They often choose their battles and try to find those doable options within the organization that yield small wins.
The book covers a spectrum of five key ways that tempered radicals affect change. They: resist quietly and stay true to one's "self"; turn personal threats into opportunities; broaden the impact through negotiation; leverage small wins; and organize collective action. These five strategies are of equal importance. However, the first strategies on the far left of the spectrum represent strategies taken by the key person or actor and only a few persons, whereas the strategies on far right side of the spectrum “provoke broader learning and change.” The book goes on to portray how tempered radicals are different by providing various scenarios in which they spark change. The situations provide the reader with opportunities to think about motivations and reasons that many tempered radicals act in the way that they do. The reasons stem from personal to political to civil reasons. Amidst the somewhat arduous reading, the scenarios provide a short welcoming experience.
Task One, How am I different? People respond differently to the same situations. In the book, tempered radicals are different in three ways. One way is because of the social identities that differentiate them from the majority. The second way is social identity as a source of cultural and stylistic difference. The third way is values and beliefs as a source of difference and conflict.
I identify more with the social identities differentiation. These social identities can be physical disability, social class, age, religion, race, sexual orientation, and gender. The author focused on race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. I identify most closely with the social identity of race. I say this because as a Black woman, I often feel a tremendous responsibility to my race, culture and next generation to provide access to more relative and rigorous learning opportunities within our school system. As the book states, some of the traits necessary for this to be accomplished include service, humility and flexibility. In contrast to the book however, I don’t try to “fit in,” as I am very confident and comfortable in the knowledge and acceptance of myself regardless of what system or organization I am in. However, in trying to develop the same awareness in children (and even some adults), I am faced with the task of tempering the curriculum with that of what I know black students should be taught (i.e., black history, culture and arts, and STEM - science, technology, engineering and math). The result of my actions, as discussed in the book, can be incremental or small, but creates a lasting effect.
In the book, Ms. Meyerson describes how black people have consistently experienced their racial identities as a source of difference. She gives the scenario with Peter Grant, a black man who she says is seemingly insincere because despite his expressing himself as not caring too much about what white people think about him, he asks her if he made her feel uncomfortable. I disagree with the author here. I believe his question was asked simply to confirm his own beliefs about what white people think about him and other black people, not to feel a sense of acceptance from her or them. To say that he “worries about it a great deal” was a superficial and exaggerated opinion and assumption on her part. To me, she should have asked him why he cared to know.
In my experience as as a Black person in this society, I have learned about “code switching,” which is when we as black people change how we may articulate or express ourselves when in certain professional settings (that may include white people). This is not to say that we become other than ourselves, or phony to please people (especially White people). Code switching is that of refraining from using “jargon, lingo or slang” in professional settings so as not to appear unprofessional or unintelligent. Of course, there are some professional settings where this is ok. As an educator, I have taught this idea to students because of the consistent use of slang terms used and I wanted my students to understand that we all should be able to use intelligent thinking and words when articulating ourselves wherever we go, and not because we are concerned about what white people think about us. What they think about us doesn’t matter. It’s what we think about ourselves that matters. However, that doesn’t mean to go around speaking to others as you would to your best friend or family when you are in professional or academic settings. There’s a place for everything.
The book really doesn’t address “code switching.” However, the author does speak to using the “insider” language of an organization and the professional persona that people take on. However, as professionals progress, they “would incorporate these personae into their sense of self.” I take this to mean that people begin to make a seamless merge of themselves into their positions without having to compromise their integrity or their true selves. I found myself in this process as an educator then math curriculum coordinator at the Central Office level. As I progressed, I didn’t feel that I had to compromise myself, and I was able to merge my true self with the professional part that I was playing. Just as she stated, it is difficult to separate your true self from the part that you are playing in the organization. However, I will say that it felt more natural for me to do this in amongst the diverse team that I worked with.
Task Two, Becoming a Tempered Radical
The book presents a continuum for the five traits of tempered radicals. I see myself as one who resists quietly but stays true to one's "self". I usually “move in silence” and strive to uplift people and encourage them to stay true to themselves. I want to empower my students and children to resist the so-called “norm” when it doesn’t reflect a high moral standard by standing up for truth and not asking to do it. In my own profession, I do this by infusing such thought processes into my own teaching. I feel that in this society’s school system, Black students aren’t taught knowledge of self first. They are taught the rudimentary, foundational academic skills, some application of such skills and test taking. However, because of the often seen psychological condition of Black people due to so many oppressive forces, knowledge of one’s self is most necessary. If you don’t truly know yourself, then you will become “other than yourself” and most likely fall victim of self-hatred, foolishness and failure. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad said “accept your own and be yourself.” My goal is to empower students to utilize knowledge of self to build up themselves They must know their proper history and what is inside of them and be comfortable with this before being lifelong learners who are effective in their circles of influence. As for myself, this is what makes me a tempered radical. I work to effect change usually by quietly affecting others (primarily students) from the inside out. They are the future and I know that by being comfortable with self through the proper knowledge of self, they will bring solutions and build bridges in ways that many of we adults have not. For it is from this vantage point of knowledge of self, that one will act with integrity to work to find solutions, help others, or make an effective change. As a tempered radical, I choose to start with the youth. Lastly, the book doesn’t speak to the issue of “self-knowledge” until later in the book (p. 147) and the author states that to “overcome the enormous pressure to conform and to suppress beliefs that challenge the majority,” it requires “self-knowledge and conviction.”
Task Three, Facing Challenges
“If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for anything.” I’m not sure who said this, but I firmly believe in this statement. It is never easy to norm, the grain or the “powers that be.” Things are difficult at school, but how can things improve if no one will fight for the improvement? But with the fight there will be several challenges to be faced.
One difficulty may be anxiety and loneliness. People don’t want to put their position at risk, and will sometimes choose the path of least resistance to avoid being criticized. It takes courage to stand up for some of the difficult and challenging issues.
Another challenge is possibly damaging one’s reputation. Bringing closed door complaints to the forefront can create ambivalence in those doing the complaining and also damage his or her reputation. They risk being called a traitor.
The last challenge is burnout. It is challenging to maintain motivation and consistency if a person feels helpless, unsupported and alone. Amidst other school related issues, behavioral and classroom management issues in schools where behavior is below expectations can be overwhelming to teachers.
Tempered radicals have been called necessary irritants. They know themselves and what’s important to them. They are steadfast leaders who affect change by leading others consistently. “It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
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