by Stan Karp
Last summer, the Save Our Schools march brought thousands of teachers, parents, and supporters of public education to Washington, D.C. The march and rally were hopeful signs of pushback against corporate ed reform. A school year that began with the media blitz around the pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for Superman ended with the voices of grassroots resistance in the nation’s capital.
From August 3 to 5, Save Our Schools supporters will gather again in D.C., this time for a “peoples convention” focused on giving more shape and substance to the SOS effort.
Rethinking Schools will be there, joining longtime friends and advocates for educational justice like Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and many others. We hope you will join us. More info here.
Rethinking Schools editor and parent activist Helen Gym and I will host a workshop session Saturday morning on education activism. We’ll share some lessons from Rethinking Schools’ 25-year history as a voice for social justice inside classrooms and communities. We’ll also share our experience with efforts to create local, state, and national coalitions to defend and improve public education, and we’ll invite discussion about how SOS might move that effort forward amidst the strongest corporate counterattack on public schooling we have seen in our lifetimes.
One topic will be strategies for countering the current mainstream narrative about education reform. That narrative is based on fundamentally inaccurate descriptions of the central problems public schools face and disastrous policy prescriptions misframed as the solutions our schools need.
For corporate reformers, the main problems in public education are low test scores, “bad teachers,” and union contracts. Their “solutions” are more standards and tests; creation of a less secure, less experienced, and less expensive professional staff; and more privatized, corporate management of schools, districts, and education policy.
But in the real world, the core problems facing public education are poverty, inadequate resources, systemic inequality and racism, and the misuse of standards and tests. The real solutions are fair and sustainable school funding, poverty reduction, curricula that reflects the real world our students live in and engages them in improving it, better preparation and support for educators, and stronger partnerships with parents and communities.
Solutions like these will only emerge from broad social movements that challenge the lack of democracy and equity both inside our schools and in the society around them.
Rethinking Schools has been addressing these issues since it was founded in 1986—partly in response to an earlier wave of top-down, business-led ed reform. We have tried to provide both critiques of bad policy and concrete examples of better practice. We have highlighted the kinds of stories and voices of educators, students, and parents that are crucial to replacing the current narrative of failure and privatization with one of hope and collective democratic vision.
At the end of last year’s SOS march and conference, participants were invited to submit a short vision of “what next.” In response we wrote:
“As we build on the SOS march and rally, we invite activists to use, support, and contribute to Rethinking Schools in a variety of ways: as a starting point for discussion, a venue for telling our stories of struggle and success in schools and classrooms, as a place to discuss ideas for building our movement, and as an accessible way to reach new audiences with our hopes for what our schools could and should be.”
As SOS regathers, we’re happy to repeat the invitation and look forward to working with other activists to realize the potential of a grassroots national movement for educational and social justice.