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Stan Karp: “Cracks in the Corporate Reform Movement”

October 23, 2011

Stan Karp from the Rethinking Schools Blog is simply fantastic in this speech that he gave in Seattle.  I have heard him talk before but each time I here him I learn something more.  If you are a teacher, you need to watch this video…yes, it is 50 minutes or so, but I am relatively certain that you might burn that same 50 minutes watching something silly on TV today anyway – so why not spend that time wisely and learn about the MOVEMENT which is GROWING AGAINST the corporatization of the teaching profession.  This stuff matters to teachers.

If you don’t watch the video, read the 10 Signs of Resistance below:

So let me end by offering a quick survey of 10 hopeful, tangible signs of organizing resistance and alternatives to the corporate reform agenda.  In no particular order:

  1. I’ve already mentioned Parents Across America which has linked experienced parent activists from Seattle to Chicago to New Orleans to New York, Florida and elsewhere into a growing parent voice for better policies. The landscape is different is every city, but there is no more crucial work than building an alliance between parents and teachers to defend and improve public education. Even a small group of activists representing teachers, parents, and progressive academics can have a big influence on local reform debates if they work together. If you haven’t connected to PAA already, do it.
  2. The outpouring of critical response to Waiting for Supermanlast fall was when a lot of teachers discovered they were not alone. Rethinking Schools’ NOT Waiting for Superman campaign drew tens of thousands of supportive responses and has created an archive of information and resources for countering corporate reform that’s still growing. In NYC, the GEM produced a documentary response to the film entitled The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman that’s served as a rallying point for organizing and discussion across the country.
  3. The two large teacher unions, the AFT & the NEA, have had mostly weak and defensive responses to the policy attacks of the past few years. But they are being pressed by both their members and by reality to develop more effective responses. This includes on the ground efforts at reform and the election of activist teacher leaders like Karen Lewis in Chicago and Bob Peterson in Milwaukee. Years of failing to effectively mobilize their membership or develop effective responses to school failure in poor communities have taken a big toll on the ability of our unions to lead the charge in defending public ed. But their role remains crucial and activists have begun to rebuild that power on the basis of new politics and new coalitions with the communities schools serve.
  4. The heroic Wisconsin rebellion. More than a month of sustained large scale protests and organizing that’s still targeting a recall effort for Gov. Scott Walker. Check out One WisconsinNow.orgfor the latest.
  5. In Ohio, outrage over another antilabor bill, SB#5 helped over generate 1.3 million signatures to put a referendum on the ballot and the measure may be repealed this November by popular vote.
  6. There’s a growing national movement  of parents and students to opt out of standardized testing. This effort has the potential to mobilize large numbers of parents and students in the fight against the testing plague. Check out orTesting is Not Teaching.
  7. The growth of locally-based teacher activist groups. There are now active Teachers for Social Justice groups with various names in Chicago, SF, Milwaukee, Portland, NYC (where there are multiple groups), St. Louis, Atlanta, and NJ to name just the ones I can remember. If there’s one in your town, join it. If not start one.
  8. Education for Liberation is a national network of educators, youth and community activists, led by people of color, doing great work on school to prison pipeline, youth organizing, and other social justice issues. Their conference in Providence this summer was probably the biggest and most dynamic yet.
  9. The Save Our Schools march and conference last July reflected both the growth and the as yet unfulfilled potential of a national teachers voice in defense of public education and the teaching profession. Interestingly, the SOS project did not begin with radical political activists, but with impeccably well-credentialed national board certified teachers, who attempted to engage the Obama administration to discuss it’s education policies and who were stunned by the arrogance and ignorance of the response. A project that began with Anthony Cody’s Teachers Letters to Obama found itself pushed by the aggressive acceleration of corporate reform into a more political and activist response. The media offensive of last fall around WfS and the state by state battles last winter and Spring convinced many that a national mobilization was sorely needed. The well-credentialed, experienced teachers at the center of the project were able to attract a significant number of well-known, respected advocates for public education who threw their support behind the effort, including Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Angela Valenzuela, Nancy-Carlsson Paige and others. Actor Matt Damon added media visibility and celebrity star power and Parents Across America broadened the project’s base and outreach, as did savvy use of social media.  The event had an impact far beyond the 8000 people who turned out for the rally, and while it remains to be seen whether SOS will be able to harvest what it started and sustain a national network, local and state groups are building on the grassroots energy that SOS helped set in motion.
  10. And finally there’s my own home base Rethinking Schools, which has somewhat miraculously survived to this year celebrate its 25th anniversary as a voice for activist educators. Rethinking Schools has always tried to connect efforts to create classrooms that are places of hope and humanity with larger struggles for racial and social justice. It made me a better teacher in the classroom and a better activist outside it. I don’t think it’s ever been more important to fight on both fronts and I thank you for letting me be part of that effort today.

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