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The State of Public Education; The State of Movements for Human Rights

Part 1 -- Possibility

As I announced yesterday, we are moving this blog to a new livelier format at Participatory Democracy and Public Education.  I want to take the opportunity of this last blog to share my sense of where Public Education and the movements for human rights in general, are going. 

It’s a time of Possibility and Promise:

It’s a time of possibility when immigrant students at risk of deportation occupy President Obama’s campaign office and threaten to do so until the election -- and then win a major first step in immigration reform for students.  This is the first major opening for the immigration movement in years.

It’s a time of hope today when students are occupying universities demanding change in the student loan system that makes college inaccessible to so many and leaves so many others indebted to the banks for decades.  It gives us hope that students can see the connection between their economic plight and the larger economic system.

It’s a time of anticipation when teachers around the world are protesting education cuts.  Below is a photo I took in June of a school in Pamplona Spain.

School protest

It’s a time of hope when students in Chile are rising up against the privatization of their public schools and colleges.

It’s a time for participatory democracy as the independent media movement grows and students are able to start democratizing the media. With the use of mobile phone technology in the hands of student activists, this is very hopeful development. 

It’s a time of hope when we in the US are becoming clearer about what works in the highest performing educational countries and provinces around the world:

  • Universal high quality preschool (in fact, from birth all the way to college);
  • Highly respected teaching profession, universally well paid teachers (with teachers in the poorest neighborhoods getting paid the highest - in Singapore it is seen as an honor to teach in low-income and immigrant communities); and
  • Equitable funding.

One of our readers, Damon Douglas, sent me an article saying, “I’m sending this article because the author realizes that systemic change is needed in education...”  The article, by Marc Tucker at Education Week is part of a growing realization that we, the US, cannot get to our education goals by tinkering with small programs.  Tucker writes,

“The essentials of the strategies used by the top-performing countries to get to the top of the world's education league tables are not mysterious. They put more money behind their hardest-to-educate kids and less behind their easiest-to-educate, the opposite of what we do... 

They require their prospective teachers to spend at a least a year mastering the craft of teaching before getting licensed, and then typically apprentice them to a master teacher for a year after they've been hired for their first job. We celebrate programs that pretend to teach teachers the craft of teaching in a few weeks and we don't even have people called master teachers in most of our school districts, never mind assign them to the preparation of new teachers. They pay their beginning teachers at about the same level as their beginning engineers, which is only a dream in the United States...

[We] will have to accept the fact that the only way to attain [our] goal is to reshape the whole system, following the examples of the nations that continue to outpace us every day...”

I am hopeful because I have visited schools in Ontario and saw how they changed their system in just 5 years -- and I know as a country we have made similar changes, turned around our educational system, and narrowed the opportunity and achievement gap from the 1950s to the ‘80s.  Many of my colleagues have been to Finland and Singapore: these schools give me hope as well.

It’s a time of promise when young gay and lesbian children can see marriage as a right for them when they grow up.

It’s a time when Black and Brown parents can see their children growing up with the fruits of the civil rights movement and can see a person of color in the white house.

There are many promising places for action which we will explore further in future blogs:

  • Statewide protests in school districts and university (for example in NY and CA);
  • Parents occupying and protesting schools being shut down across the country;
  • The National Student Bill of Rights;
  • Progressive labor unions (for example in Chicago and LA); -- we can’t build transformative social movements without talking about the political economy and its implications for racism and sexism and how they and inequality are perpetuated by capitalism
  • The Dreamers and the student immigrant movement;
  • All the protests against the shooting of young men of color and prison reform;
  • The independent media movement and the media emerging from young people and many supporting their media and helping them communicate and work with the pain they are suffering, and
  • All the conversation and mobilization like Occupy that focus on the material conditions being so bad and people losing their homes.

All the things mentioned also point to this being a time of anger and challenge.  I will explore these challenges in The State of Public Education Part 2.

This will be my last piece at Education Week. Thank you again to all of Education Week’s staff for their support and helping launch us.  Please join our conversation at Participatory Democracy and Public Education.  I will simultaneously be reposting this blog at this new home which is already generating many engaging comments.

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