Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tides Are a-Turnin’

There are some quiet rumblings out there that the tide in education reform is turning.  As the sparkle and noise of Waiting for Superman fades into memory and the propaganda machine that is NBC’s Education Nation’s spotlight is momentarily switched off, the muffled shouts of the newly dubbed “social context reformers” start to slip through the mainstream media’s corporate-reform worshipping blitz.   Our fearless leader, Diane Ravitch has been featured on major news outlets like CNN, NBC, and the Daily Show.  Other untiring activists like Leonie Haimson have made it into the national conversation (see here for Leonie’s interview on CNN.)

Maybe there was, in fact, a “Christmas Miracle” as Paul Thompson writes in the post Is there a Christmas miracle in school reform debate?   Teach for America got some heat in a fantastic piece called Teach for America: Liberal mission helps conservative agenda by Andrew Hartman.  NEA president Van Roekel certainly got some strong pushback from educators around the country for partnering with Wendy Kopp in this USA Today article.  Today, blogger Alexander Russo complimented “Reformer Opponents” (albeit that the word “compliment” is a bit questionable as the tone of the post did not seem complimentary at all.  Probably Alexander was just going for provocative to get more hits on his blog.  So be it.  But I really don’t see how the “real education reformers” or “social context reformers” or what have you are the Goliath in this scenario when the corporate reformers are the ones who control all the money, power, and message.  But I digress…) See the post here.

Russo does bring up a good point.  Those of us who believe in “real reform” do have the power of passion which compels us to be active on blogs, comment sections, and social media sites.  I think Arne Duncan, Education Nation, Michelle Rhee, Teach for America and The Gates Foundation have all become more careful in what they tweet because we have become pretty darn good at flooding twitter when they post some ridiculous, unproven, pro-corporate propaganda.  (Yay tweachers!)

It is no coincidence that the people who side on the “social context” camp are primarily the teachers who do the hard work of education and the parents and community members who understand the true need and meaning of reform.  Education must look very different from the penthouses and ivory towers of the people leading the corporate reform movement.  Those of us on the ground see daily the effect of the failed, racist, neoliberal educational policies that are set to tear down our public education system.

It’s one thing to head a foundation, run a non-profit built on corporate money, or do your “reform” efforts in the few hours when you are not making millions as a hedge fund manager.  It is quite another to actually watch your student have a panic attack during a high-stakes test, hear a parent describe the abusive household they recently left leaving the family homeless, to watch a student tear up describing getting kicked out of a charter school, or see your teacher colleagues fold under the pressure of “accountability” threats.  The policies I am standing against are not theoretical abstractions to me.  I see names and faces of people being hurt and damaged by these disgusting laws.   I see the real impact of poverty on my students' lives every single day. 

Before becoming involved with the real education reform efforts, I had never commented on an online article, called a Congress person, or circulated a petition in my life.  I didn’t even have a Twitter account.  It was seeing the visceral and very real injustices that were occurring before my eyes in my low-income urban elementary school that got me fired up.  Those feelings were compounded by working on an inpatient psychiatry unit for children with significant mental health problems.  Poverty is creating real obstacles to success in my students’ lives.   I will not dismiss that impact.  

And unlike those hedge fund managers and foundation heads, my passion, and the passion of those I fight alongside with, is deep and personal.  This is our power.   No Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, Whitney Tilson, or Bill Gates can ever top the strength of our personal cause.

Eventually they will tire of their education reform hobby.  Or better yet, they will tire of having to battle all of us for every destructive step they take away from real reform.   So let’s focus our unending passion and drive to crush this bad thing that is corporate reform.  And maybe, finally, after they are all gone, we can sift through the devastation in order to begin the reforms that might actually help our students.  We will still be here when the tide finally turns. 


  1. I think we will continue to see a lack of courage when it comes to education reform discussions. Advocates seem to fear hurting the thing they love by naming it and lapse into name calling what we don't like as "corporate", "corp reform", "no excuses reform", "ed deform", "greEdreform", or even the pun "Rheeform."

    Some on the progressive left are starting to use the term "social context reform." It does not matter what the positive things we all want are called but we'll make better use of our time if we pick some terms and run with those. Right now, we seem better at coming up with names for things we hate than things we love.

  2. I really like what you are saying, Christopher. I think it's critical to remember that we must focus on solutions and what we do believe in more than attacking what we don't.

    That said, please do remember that we are multi-faceted creatures and so while we might be intensely critical in some venues, many of us are doing the intense strategizing, organizing and building toward those solutions in our daily lives.

    Much respect.