During the first NPE national conference this weekend, I felt lucky to meet in person a number of people whose wit, work and writing I admire. I also came away energized, knowing that there are hundreds of teachers, parents and others who were willing to pay for plane flight and hotel rooms and conference fees out of their own pockets to organize against the corporate destruction of public education.
We had no billionaires or millionaires or hedge-fund managers paying our way or guaranteeing us lucrative careers in return for spouting the corporate neo-liberal party line that public schools must be turned over to the supposed excellence of privatizers.
A number of speakers and individuals made the case that we will surely win. Nothing that the corporate elite has done in the past few decades while privatizing the public schools has actually worked, even by their own yardsticks. Inevitably we discover that their so-called miracle schools are based on pushing out the hard-to-educate or on outright fraud (think of Rod Paige’s Texas and Houston “miracles” and the massive RheeRaserGate scandals in Atlanta and Washington DC) and the enormous attrition and suspension rates of every supposedly successful charter school. And when you look into the online charter schools and the for-profit universities, you discover that they are merely selling snake oil at a very high markup rate .
When you actually look behind the facade of the Common Core you discover that its progressive-sounding ideas and objectives mask a testing regime that makes no sense whatsoever and consumes the entire school year and is designed to flunk large numbers of students with ambiguous and inane test questions whose results will be used to demonize, demoralize and fire large numbers of teachers. What’s more, teaching in public and charter schools is turning into a high-stress, low-paid, temporary job with no future or benefits or pension.
In yet another ironical twist, 50 years after Brown v Board of Ed decreed that segregated schools are inferior schools, we are seeing a wholesale return to completely segregated charter schools and voucher academies with no oversight whatsoever. The same criminally devious billionaires who brought us credit default swaps and golden parachutes for CEOs while bankrupting millions of homeowners and wiping away very modest pensions for public employees– these sleazemeisters who profit from wiping out American jobs and sending them abroad where there are less safety regs and much lower pay — they have attempted to claim the mantle of the civil rights movement and to say that the enemy of poor black and Latino students is THEIR TEACHERS.
Naturally, the children of Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers and all the rest of these neoliberal plutocratic elite do not send their own kids to schools where it’s all test prep all the time. No way: their kids have classes in art, music, handicrafts, overnight field trips, gym, sports, foreign languages, science with real labs, all taught by experienced, trained teachers who are given great autonomy in deciding on their curriculum, pacing, and course of study — and write their own exams and quizzes (if any), graded and returned to the students and parents within a week at the most. The children of the wealthy are not forced to adapt to a lockstep rigorous (as in rigor mortis) curriculum provided at great taxpayer expense by Pearson. Nor are their kids “taught” in a rote manner by someone fresh out of college with a mere FIVE WEEKS of useless rah-rah training in TFA groupthink and who will quit or be fired in a year or two (or three). Which is what it’s like in most inner cities today.
As many conference attendees pointed out, none of that narrative makes any sense, and the facts are all on OUR side. But the other side has all the billionaires, and their wealth has enabled them to hire the best
story-tellers liars in the world, who have come up with totally bogus fairy tales that have convinced a lot of the general public.
But not all.
We opposition activists utterly dominate social media. Hundreds and thousands of unpaid activists write well-researched blogs, send out great tweets, force frauds like Michelle Rhee to close her pages to comments, and continue to give the Gates, Broad, Koch and Walton foundations a very hard time.
But we surely have a long way to go. These very same billionaires own ALL the major media. We did not have large numbers of parent activists at NPE in Austin, and a lot of black and Hispanic families continue to enroll their children in charter schools and voucher schemes, believing the billionaire’s propaganda, at least in part. Many former teacher activists — like me — have retired; not enough of us continue organizing or fighting back. Even in Chicago, where teachers won the support of parents in going on strike to fight back against the draconian and racist cutbacks of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the school closings continue. In New York, where DeBlasio won his election on a platform of opposing Mayor Bloomberg’s corporate education. “Rheeforms”, there is a long way to go.
And our two major teacher unions continue to take millions of dollars from Bill Gates and other wealthy foundations — funds aimed precisely at dismantling public education.
Where will it end? I don’t know. But I do believe (aplogies to MLK) that the arc of history does in the end bend towards justice for the simple fact that there are, after all, so few of the oppressors, and there are so many of the rest of us.
The struggle will continue. Be strong, and enlist more allies!!