Fighting for the Schools Our Children Deserve

This is an edited version of a talk I gave on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 in Harlem. I was speaking alongside educator and parent activist Diana Zavala. 

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Many of us are critics of public education and defenders of its public nature. We’re critical because the schools as they are, are, in many places, not the schools that our children deserve. In too many ways, too many of our schools still resemble factories — an inheritance from the last business craze in education — roughly 100 years ago. On top of that, we have tremendous inequality of resources and funding — disparities which nearly always correlate with race and socioeconomic status. In my chapter of the book, Education and Capitalism, I wrote about the ways African American families have fought for education for hundreds of years in the face of institutional racism.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>That’s not surprising, since something special was happening in the 1960s — millions of Americans — through organizing, marching, protesting, and civil disobedience — forced the larger society to question racism, work, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and war. 

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>We don’t have an earth-shaking movement like that today. In fact, I think we can reasonably say that the absence of such a powerful movement is the essential pre-requisite for this business-oriented takeover of public schools.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>If the factory model is the template for the way all work is organized, it’s just unthinkable that school wouldn’t prepare young people for factories.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>So even though we know that sustained imaginative play is the work of early childhood, now even 3 and 4 year olds are going to have to demonstrate measurable progress in academic skills or they can be held back, their pre-K can be closed down, and their teachers forced to find other jobs. 

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>The architect of the Standards, David Coleman, says that kids need to read less fiction and write fewer personal narratives because “When you grow up in this world, you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>In Seattle, a group of teachers unanimously voted to refuse to administer a standardized test. They risked their jobs, but won so much support from parents, students, and community members that the superintendent was put in a position where it was impossible to punish them.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>They pointed out that while Democratic Party officials like Rahm Emmanuel like to prescribe high stakes testing, data driven teacher evaluations, school closings and charter schools for our kids, they send their own children to schools that look entirely different.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>The Sidwell Friends school, which President Obama’s daughters attend, doesn’t focus on standardized test scores, but on the role of the individual as a thoughtful, responsible member of a community. The school’s website says:



line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Here are the student/teacher ratios in the Sidwell Friends School:

PK    mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>12:1

3-4    mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>16:1

7-8    mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>13:1 (varies)

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>When it comes to meeting our students’ basic needs, they claim there’s no money. But when it comes to data gathering there’s a blank check. New York City is going to spend $32 million to pay Pearson to develop more tests over the next five years. 

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Bloomberg would never tolerate that state of affairs for his own children.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>6 Science labs

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>2 Music Rooms

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>1 Darkroom

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>2 Performance Spaces

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>2 Libraries

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>As we sit here, they are literally developing standardized music tests, but they have not even made sure that every child has a music teacher.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>If we let the corporations organize education, it will be an education that’s about fitting our children into their workplaces — into the narrow vision of working life that they have in store for the next generation.


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