Arguing with Sandy Merz: The Importance of Dissent

Angela Buzan Current Affairs, Education Policy

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The government should fund prisons more than they fund schools.

Teachers work far fewer days than other professionals. Culturally Responsive teaching is awkward. Teachers don’t make half of the decisions the experts claim they do.

Yep, he wrote those.

Sandy Merz is one of my favorite bloggers and lunch partners—not because I agree with any of his nonsense— I still get the shakes about his napkin-math statistic that Arizona spends $3 per hour per prisoner but a WHOPPING $6.00 per student—but because he makes me think.

Here are some things you should know about Mr. Merz.

Aside from probably inspiring the Twitter slang “SMH”, Sandy’s also a prolific reader, writer, and thinker. At any given time, he’s reading six books from six separate disciplines. He actively participates in political and sociological discourses across the spectrum. As a math teacher, he engages in inquisitive fieldwork, doing things like getting behind-the-scenes tours of Raytheon, only to casually ask upper management, “so at what point in your schooling could you have stopped taking math courses and still be equipped to be an engineer?” He’s the kind of guy who chews on new ideas mindfully– before spitting them out, of course.

No matter how radical his opinions, his disposition is absurdly moderate. His magic is his ability to ask these questions without attacking individuals, but rather their ideas.

In the business world, this concept is called productive tension. T. Falcon Napier, an internationally-recognized human development expert, claims productive tension allows people to analyze ideas from new perspectives, with the goal of progress. Said another way, productive tension ignores ego, reputation, and hierarchy and values ideas.

In their article, “Productive Tension: Striking the Right Balance”, Favaro and Joni argue that sometimes professionals fall into the pit of dysfunctional friendliness—an ironic “inclination to avoid conflict and seek agreement” that leaves important issues perpetually unresolved or worse, unaddressed.

So, back to Sandy.

Next Saturday I’ll probably be reading his new blog and multi-tasking rage and Twitter replies, but I’ll also be learning. ‘Cause despite his agenda, I know Sandy’s on our side. He is a teacher-professional who’s endlessly curious to discover new ways to advance teaching and learning.

If I’ve learned anything through blogging it is this: the people who compliment your ideas nourish you, but they do not change you. Though it is uncomfortable, tension can create energy; it can inspire, it can motivate. When you unconditionally believe in an idea, one person’s contrasting opinion can’t take that away from you, but it can help you solidify your armor.

My challenge to you is to find someone who puts you in a thinking space that forces you to get creative with your contentions. Find someone who forces you to rethink your angles.

Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.


Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has eleven years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

  • Mike Vargas


  • Yolanda Wheelington

    Soooo True!

    Thank you for this.

  • Beth Maloney

    I love that about you and Sandy! I fear falling into the pit of “dysfunctional friendliness” with many of my colleagues. I need more productive tension in my school environment to avoid complacency and try new ideas. Thanks for the reminder, Angela!

  • Jen Robinson

    Thank you for posting this blog and sharing insight into our friend Sandy’s thinking. I agree whole heartedly that he pushes us to think about different perspectives and see all angles on a topic. After all we are educators and we need to be armed with the whole story not just one side.

  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    My favorite people are the people who challenge me most often and we remain friends. They help me be a better person and not fall into a trap of being compliant! Great article about an awesome friendship!

  • Sandy Merz

    Well, I know what I’m going to choose as my favorite blog this year. I think any data on the number of hits this post gets should be cut in half for all the times I’ve read it. My reply is at