How do we organize in FAVOR of improved public education?

All those in favor of promoting and improving free, public, integrated, comprehensive, universal public education are fighting against a very well-organized, heavily funded, and powerful opposition.

We have all of the right-wing think tanks and major media editorial boards against us. (Don’t believe me? See an article by the late Milton Friedman, in the Washington Post, from 15 years ago. )  NCLB was planned and implemented precisely to destroy the public schools, and is working quite well. We have both the national Republican and Democratic parties vilifying teachers and trying to eliminate free, comprehensive, universal, public education. Public schools appear to be more and more racially segregated, and the charter schools are even worse. We have “philanthopists” representing untold billions in private wealth (essentially stolen from the public) who are trying to privatize public education, and to eliminate some of the few remaining areas of union organization left in the US.

But what are WE going to do about it?

Well, we can do some research to point out the lies and distortions put out by the pro-privatization side. My blogs have mostly been research articles, in which I have been attempting to use facts and statistics to refute the lies peddled by the pro-privatization, anti-public-education, anti-union crowd that is exemplified by Rhee. I have used data from the websites of NAEP, OSSE/DCPS/NCLB,  S.H.A.P.P.E. and the 21st Century School Fund among others. The American Federation of Teachers employs some well-intentioned professional researchers and statisticians who have come up with some very interesting and useful data over the last decade or so.

But don’t expect any union leadership these days to actually be on the side of the rank-and-file. The term “sellout” is still a correct description of the vast majority of union leaders. For example, the current and past leadership of the Washington Teachers Union  have been a pretty sorry lot. Some of them have been too busy lining their own pockets (and hiding this from the teachers) to fight for reform, no matter what they proclaimed publicly.

(Of course, the theft of a few million dollars by Bullock and company didn’t bring down the entire economy, unlike the thefts by CEOs at ENRON, AIG, Bank of America, and so on.  But it did severely weaken the labor movement by showing how corrupt our leadership can be, giving ammunition to the right-wing anti-union crowd.)

George Parker was so far inside Rhee’s corner, for quite a long time, and had drunk so much of her Kool-Aid, that he actually thought that teachers would buy the Red-Green plan, until he found out, probably much to his surprise, that the vast majority of them wanted no part of it. At which point he had to change his tune and his ostensible direction by almost 180 degrees. But don’t depend on him to actually DO anything about it. Notice that Parker has apparently had no executive board meetings or membership meetings for several months – and this at a time when teachers (and the public) should be very actively organizing to oppose the plans of Rhee, of the WaPo editorial board, and all of the billionaires who want to eliminate comprehensive, universal, free, rational public education.

The skills needed to research and analyze that material, to comb the public record for lies by the educational privatization crowd, and to write coherent articles about that, are quite different from the skills needed to actually organize large numbers of people into a cohesive, well-organized, progressive, social movement that achieves positive gains. Having both types of skills is useful, but they are rare in the same person.

(Don’t look at me. I like to think I write OK,  I have experience doing research, and I know a little math, but I know from bitter experience that I suck at organizing, am pessimistic by nature, can’t plan a successful course of public action, am not a good public speaker, and can’t think on my feet.)

Plus, time spent in library stacks or on-line looking up data is time that is NOT spent telephoning or meeting with people to make plans for demonstrations or whatever other type of effective public action is needed. There are only so many hours in a day; and there are very few hours available for any of that stuff if you happen to be employed. And if you are a teacher in the DCPS, why, then, virtually every single one of your waking hours needs to be devoted to the mostly useless rigamarole and BS that is required of you under IMPACT, if you hope to keep your job. (I only have time to do this column because I retired last June!)

We really need to be an active organization in FAVOR of improving public education that has the potential to organize masses of peple. I wish there was one, but I am not aware of any. The Democratic Party, nationally and locally, seems to spout the same line as the privatizers (look at Adrian Fenty and Arne Duncan, for example). Barack Obama has got to be a severe disappointment to anybody who actually believed he was going to make a difference. The various microscopic left-wing splinter groups haven’t amounted to anything for about three decades.

The saying: “The people, united, will never be defeated” is still true. But the “united” part is very hard to attain. If anybody has solid suggestions or plans, or knows of an effective, real-life organization that has potential, I am all ears. We need to find a way out of this crisis.
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