Bonnie Lesley

I’ve spent my life as a learner and a teacher, as an activist and a thinker — always striving to find the balance since one role can be consuming.

What has been your most notable rebel accomplishment or experience?

I spent the 1970’s organizing, leading, and participating in the Women’s Political Caucus, hardly a radical organization, but it felt like it at the time! I organized the El Paso, TX, Caucus and chaired it one year, and then I chaired the Texas Women’s Political Caucus. Doing that work and learning as much as I did turned me into a political junkie, and since then I spend time every day fighting the good fight.

In my career as a teacher, I found myself championing the expression of the students and encouraging them to learn everything they could so that they could think for themselves. Some of my colleagues thought I was pretty radical!

As an administrator, trying to improve students’ opportunities to learn, I had to take on the interests of adults at every step. My rebel nature continues in retirement. I am doing everything I can to ensure funding adequacy and equity for public schools and warning everyone about the creeping movement toward privatization.

When did you first realize that you are a rebel?

I first realized I was a rebel when I was in college–but not in action, just in thoughts. My first actions occurred when I was a teacher as I found my voice to question policies and practices as they affected teachers and students. In my first year I was called to the superintendent’s office for telling the librarian that her policy of not allowing freshmen to check out books on the sophomore reading list was “absurd.” It went from there.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?

I wish that I had learned negotiation skills from someone early on. Instead, I got slapped around a lot because I would at times be too direct or too assertive in my protest. I had to learn over time how to proceed. I learned how to be a leader in the Women’s Political Caucus.

What is your favorite rebel characteristic?

Persistence. If a situation cannot be made right today, I want everyone to try again tomorrow, and again and again until it is right.

What’s your favorite question?

Tell me, why are you doing what you are doing? What I am looking for is the evidence that informs the decisions (and sometimes there is none). I learned to ask that question when I first became a teacher supervisor and then a supervisor of other administrators.

What one clue tells you you’re effecting positive change?

I have an archive of notes, letters, emails, Facebook postings, etc. from former students, employees, and political friends that tell me how I made a difference in their lives. Many of those messages thank me for supporting them in their endeavors. It is particularly sweet to review those affirmations as I am now retired (kind of) and in my 70’s. I feel that it was all worthwhile.

What do you think it’s most important for people to understand about rebels?

I think that many rebels are very bright. They see things that go right over the heads of most others.

They are also people who work hard to know that what they are doing is right. They are ongoing learners. They take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

Really good rebels are also really good leaders. A rebel leader points the way toward some desired change rather than get out in front of the crowd after the poll is published.

What’s your one word piece of advice for rebels?

Care about the people affected — affected by the change and/or affected without it.

What’s your one word piece of advice for non-rebels?

Hmmm. If you agree with me, help me. Rebels needs lots of help. Lots of different kinds of help.

Where do you think rebels are most needed today?

Everywhere! Change is occurring exponentially, and instead of confronting the issues — that threaten the planet due to climate change, that endanger the food supply, that violate human rights, that obscenely increase the wealth gap, that deal with privacy issues, that threaten our safety and security, that seek to privatize all government services, and on and on —  too many people try to take us into the past. We need rebels everywhere!

Who is your favorite rebel from the past 100 years?

Gloria Steinem. Her work in advocating for acceptance of the changing roles of women has been such an inspiration to me. Still, in 2012, a woman who steps out of the traditional role, is considered to be a rebel.

What’s the one thing you should never say to a rebel?

Know your place. (A lady is a woman who knows her place.)