Friday, February 1, 2013

A Shout-Out to Education Activists

This piece was originally posted at

There are times when I feel overwhelmed by my good fortune to know so many powerful parent, teacher, student, and community activists across the country and the globe.  We have come together through the fight against corporate education reform and the call for education justice, equity, and democratically-run schools.  I feel lucky to have met so many amazing people at the many rallies, sit-ins, community meetings, and education events happening across my city of Chicago.  I feel fortunate for being able to witness and take a small part in the inspirational Chicago Teachers Strike.  I feel blessed to know many of the people behind the scenes of that historic event.  I feel privileged to work in solidarity across the nation with activists standing up against excessive testing, fighting for smaller classes, speaking out against corporate influence in education, and lending their expertise and voice to the struggle.   And today I feel honored to share a blog space with many of my education blogging heroes whose words tear down the false rhetoric of the education reform movement and inspire us to a new, equitable, and just vision of schooling.

As yet another School Choice Week comes to a close, I am again hit by the differences between Corporate Education Reformers and Education Justice Activists.  During the week, I took a moment to look through the school choice week hashtag #SCW and saw many of the tweets were from Astroturf organizations like Students First, conservative Think Tanks, or Education wonks and their publications.  Every tweet seemed so intentional, as if vetted by a marketing-expert or a social media manager.  And all the tweets seemed so far removed from the realities of schools.

StudentsFirst is the well-known Corporate Ed Reform run by Michelle Rhee.  Illinois Policy is a "free market think tank" while Joy Pullman is "Managing editor of News for " Sally Canfield is "Deputy Chief of Staff to Sen " and Emily Bouck is a "Legislative Aide at Office of US Senator Marco Rubio " That top tweet is from @TexasAFP or Americans for Prosperity Texas. Need I say more?

Meanwhile, as I looked through the corporate, political, carefully-orchestrated tweets, I was also receiving updates via twitter from the school closing hearings being held around my city of Chicago.  They were packed full of parents, teachers, and community members who overwhelmingly were begging to stop school closures and to end charter expansion in the city.  These meetings were overflowing with raw emotion, sometimes turning into rowdy disruption and angry outbursts.  Parents sang praises of their schools, teachers described the magic that happens everyday in their classrooms, and communities demanded real investment in their neighborhood schools.  I am proud to know many of these people.  These are the same people I marched with on the streets of Chicago during the teachers strike.  Together we marched and rallied and sang and danced demanding fully-funded schools, counselors, nurses, social workers, libraries with librarians to staff them, in schools that were well-kept with basic air-conditioning and heat.  We demanded small classes, more special education teachers, and humane discipline policies.  And still the powers that be continue down their destructive path of corporate education reform, ignoring the people.

The next day, it was reported how CPS had used grant money from the Walton Foundation to hire a marketing consultant group to "listen" to the hundreds of upset community members.   Parents and students, teachers and community groups who gave up their evening to come and plead for their schools, who wanted nothing more than to be heard, were given hired corporate consultants to massage the impassioned crowd instead of genuine dialogue. 

More at The Real News
And also this week, one thousand miles away, activists from Chicago joined hundreds of other freedom fighters from 18 different cities to speak directly to Arne Duncan and the leaders of our country about the injustice of school closings and the inherent racism of the Department of Education's policies.  Listen to the amazing Jitu Brown, member of KOCO (Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization) once again speak truth to power.

The people who rode all the way to Washington DC on a Journey for Justice were not slick consultants or public relations gurus.  The people outraged at school closing hearings were not part of any think tank, private foundation, or non-profit.  These are parents and teachers and concerned community members who simply want schools that work for all kids.  They have seen first-hand the destruction caused by corporate education reforms and they bring with them another, alternative, community-based, equitable vision for strong public schools.

These are the two faces of the education "reform" movement.  True, grassroots righteous anger at the status quo of inequality, racism and injustice, up against the guys in the suits. It is the working class and poor who must fight against the wealthy elites.  It is the majority black and brown communities defying the white institutions of power.  It is the largely female teachers fighting the male-dominated business world.  It is the all-volunteer local groups of parents, teachers, and students up against paid corporate consultants with shiny brochures and training in marketing. It is small, independent media outlets and education summits held in community schools fighting media blitzes and billionaire-funded reform extravaganzas held in fancy hotels and broadcast on corporate airwaves.  It is a bunch of union activists meeting in rickety meeting halls serving Cheetos and home-made cookies compared to slick corporate-sponsored events with caterers, fancy technology, complete with a corporate logo mug on your way out.

Ultimately though, this fight has brought me in contact with some of the most passionate, inspirational, justice-fighters I have ever known.  The education activists I have met are beautiful people who are humble and quiet and caring and smart.  And they are willing to fight fiercely for their students, their children, their schools, and their communities.

Thank you for all your hard work.  Thank you for your perseverance up against mountains of money and power.  Thank you for the personal money and time you sacrifice in the effort to do what you know is right.  Thank you for being willing to fight this uphill battle. 

And always remember Margret Mead's famous quote:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Let's change the world, people. Keep fighting. 


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