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Thanks to Chris Nielson for this title’s line and to the nearly dozens of other speakers on Thursday and this weekend who comprise the line up of activist educators in Washington, DC for the Occupy the Department of Education 2.0. This year’s show of force is sponsored by United Opt Out, a parents/teachers based grassroots organization dedicated to having public school children in America refuse to take high stakes tests throughout the school year. Founder Peggy Robertson of Colorado, teacher and parent, called on all to demand creative learning and an end to the dismantling of public schools.
There was a small kick-off gathering at the Department of Education site but the movement has been growing with enormous strength since 2011 with the Save Our Schools March on Washington, where nearly 10,000 educators and parents from all over the US braved the hottest day of the year to show how we are fed up with the privatization of our public education. There is a revolt going on and it’s catching fire. The brave teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle refused to administer their high stakes test. Parents all over the country are now aware of their rights as parents to opt their kids out, and often with no negative consequences to their children’s academic futures.
At this years event, speaker after speaker, from school librarians, teachers, careerists-turned educators, parents and the occasional wonk spoke passionately of how huge corporations have amassed fortunes at the expense of public school children. Powerful forces are at work to squeeze every dollar they can from children’s daily experiences at schools. It wasn’t lost on anyone that 400 Maryland Ave SW should be renamed the Gates-Pearson building (Bill Gates, Pearson Publishers), rather than the Department of Education. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010) repeatedly pointed her finger to the top floors of the DOE to say how they don’t listen to educators but only those who can profit off the data mining that testing provides.
The injustices that prevail in the US regarding our children’s education can be summed up in two ways: child labor and child abuse. The Tennessee state government is considering legislation to tie a child’s test score to the family’s welfare check. The pressures put on these children are beyond cruel and inhumane. Forcing a child to do well on often bogus tests as a way of supporting a family’s income and survivability should be condemned in all possible ways. The abuse all children submit to throughout the school year with endless testing, data collecting, and the denial of the arts, libraries, physical education, is one that would never be tolerated for the kids of those making educational policy. It’s no surprise that the private schools that produce the elite laugh at the idea of such high stakes testing or mindless and numbing curricula whose purpose is only to prepare the students to pass such tests. A creative curriculum is for their kids, the children of Bill Gates and President Obama, not urban and rural kids who are likely to be of color and certainly of lower income.
Five years after President Nixon resigned no one claimed to have ever voted for him. Now, the very forces involved in destroying public education are ‘coming around’. Fox news the other day did a story on how the Common Core for curriculum was written by private interests, but endorsed by government. Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, has joined Murdoch’s News Corp’s as Executive Vice President. He also acquired Wireless Generation, the IT company that data mines NY’s schools. Bill Gates even now talks of how testing is going overboard. Could this be the aristocracy of France trying to fend off the Jacobins before their heads rolled off the guillotine? Or in more recent history is it more akin to the senior Nazi high command who switched allegiance to the Allies when Berlin was falling?
Like every other public service, education is for sale. Students are widgets or commodities with a price tag. Teachers are no more than McDonald’s-like employees forced to create uniform results and discarding those who don’t make the grade. Many are leaving the profession. Those entering are now the tools of a multi-billion dollar industry. Who will win out will depend on whether or not we see a revolution in education carried out by the parents, students and teachers.
Myles B. Hoenig is a veteran ESOL teacher in Prince George’s County, MD.