This Month, We Occupied Education
Saulo Colon is guest posting today. Saulo is a former union and community organizer, a current community college instructor and independent researcher, a parent, and an activist in the Puerto Rican diaspora. He is brilliant, analytical,and expert in connecting community organizing and social change theory.
This is an update on the March 1st Occupy Education events. It includes excerpts from several interviews and reports concerning protests that day and why the protests happened. I include the links so readers can read them entirely and see the diversity of authors.
Possible Futures: Were March 1st Demonstrators Occupy's Comeback Kids?
People are wondering, "Is Occupy still going?" It is. But how and where are far from clear. We heard whispered teases of an answer, carried by a gust of the gathering wind. One set of whispers came on Thursday March 1st, as students around the world marched in defense of public education. The day's local actions were staged by a broad coalition of organizers seeking an overarching education agenda best articulated by a chant heard late Thursday afternoon: "From pre-k, to PhD, education should be free!"
Could the call for free education restore to Occupy some of last year's magic? Maybe. The talk is of potent stuff. It's estimated that paying the tuition of every two- and four-year public college degree in the United States would cost about $70 billion--or the amount the Pentagon wastes each year.
Meanwhile, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign is building a pledge of student debt refusal. Student debt in this country now verges on $1 trillion, more than the total credit card debt but impossible to default on--a bookish albatross hanging from so many necks at a time of unprecedented joblessness and, when luck does strike, casualized labor.
So there's no shortage of radical ideas with potentially big appeal. And yet--OWS wasn't built on grandiose policy proposals. Rather, the brilliant framing slogan "we are the 99%" and the tactical innovation of occupation encampments were effective in, at once, expanding the circle of politicized activists and concentrating their energy in a single, flowing project, albeit one with many currents.
As students across the country stage a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, we look at the nation's largest school systems--Chicago and New York City.
AMY GOODMAN: Jaisal Noor, today is Occupy Education day for many students around the country... talk about the bridge, what links them in the Occupy movement.
JAISAL NOOR: It's really interesting, because a lot of people don't know that some of the key organizers, the key founders of Occupy Wall Street are actually public school teachers. They know better than anyone the effects of the 1 percent having this undue influence on public education. You have Bill Gates, Eli Broad, these rich, wealthy philanthropists that are backed by--first by No Child Left Behind, now by Race to the Top, that these people, who would never send their kids to a public school, can dictate the policies that are implemented in public schools across the country through these unelected school boards, as we see in Chicago and in New York. And, you know, Karen Lewis can definitely talk more about the struggles in Chicago, one of the areas that has been most altered under No Child Left Behind and where the prototype for Race to the Top, Renaissance 2010, was first created.
JAISAL NOOR: Many, including teacher Katie Osgood, accused Education officials of chronically under funding the schools they now say are failing and need to be closed.
KATIE OSGOOD: They need real, real teachers. They need these teachers. In order to succeed, these kids need the most resources, but instead CPS gives them the least. And I urge the board today to fully resource every neighborhood school, and I guarantee you will never have to close a school again.
JAISAL NOOR: According to the Alliance for Quality Education, $1.3 billion in cuts in 2011 meant a reduction in spending of more than $800 per student in poor districts. In wealthy districts, the cut was about $270. Students, including Legacy senior Marte, says the city's policies of closing schools is misguided, and they organized a walkout to send a message that other solutions are possible.
KEYLA MARTE: We're kind of risking it all, because, with walking out, our message is not to cut school; our message is bigger, like this is our education. So the same fact that you want us to learn, we want to learn, and we have the right to learn, but you not giving us a chance just fails us. And that's the bigger picture.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pallas, Can you explain what your concern is with rating teachers according to the tests?
AARON PALLAS: Well, a lot has to do with the limitations of the tests. We demand a lot of our schools and of our teachers with regard to a whole range of things that we're trying to develop in students: intellectual curiosity, creativity, respect for others, a commitment to civic democracy. And tests are a very, very poor measure of a lot of those things. So the danger is that if teachers and schools are held accountable just for these relatively narrow measures of what it is that students are doing in class, that will become what drives the education system. It becomes the tail wagging the dog, with a focus on things that are somewhat important--I mean, test scores are not unimportant, but they're a very small part of the overall picture.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Karen Lewis, could you clarify, when you say 100,000 schoolchildren don't really matter? You recently spoke out publicly about some comments that the mayor made to you in a private meeting?
KAREN LEWIS: Yes. When I first met him, we had dinner together, and he said, "Well, you know, 25 percent of these kids are never going to be anything. They're never going to amount to anything. And I'm not throwing money at it." And I was like, "Wow! You know, even if you believe that, you can't say that to me." So, I just watch how he has used black and brown and poor children as props to push an agenda that is all about privatization and all about so-called accountability, but it's really... this culture of punishment and culture of disinvestment, and it is rampant and obviously spreading throughout the country.
The Bloomberg Administration released documents detailing its plans to shut 33 more schools this year: Read more
Protesters rallied against cuts to child care and after-school services at City Hall: Read more
The Times editorialized in favor of curbing suspensions following a new federal report showing how black students are disproportionately punished at public schools: Read more
Prof. Aaron Pallas challenged the mayor's claim that his administration "has cut the racial achievement gap in half", saying he misrepresented the facts by, at best, "a factor of 50″ since state math scores show a mere 1% narrowing and national tests show a 3% increase: Read more
Student-led protesters visited the offices of "wanted" mayoral appointees to the PEP, demanding they explain their 100%-in-favor voting record for the mayor's controversial proposals: Read more
Council Members led a City Hall rally in support of teachers: Read more
Hundreds of students walked out of Dewey HS to protest the City's plan to fire half the staff there, close the school, and re-open it under the "turnaround" model: Read more