Just as the a political wave of teacher blame seemed certain to drown out their voices, the teacher backed SOS movement has come Washington DC to say, “NO!” Well not just no, but to also shine a light on a new path for education. For the next four days Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action (SOS) have descended on Washington DC, to connect education reform efforts happening around the nation and let policymakers know teachers also have a political voice. Days 1 and 2 are a conference hosted at American University. Then on Saturday, June 30th , SOS takes to the streets for a rally and march to the White House. It ends on Sunday, with a congress to plan next steps.
On the opening day, the audience was filled with educators and their allies from across the nation. Among the capacity 450 crowd a healthy contingent came from California. They were present and energized. The event co-chair Rick Meyer, may have summed the event up best when he rallied “This is not an academic conference, we are here about action!” The workshops also fit this mold, with discussion ranging from using art for protest, to getting Congress to transform NCLB, to student/teacher organizing to change education. No one could have started things off better than the opening speaker Jonathan Kozol. See more of my blogs for more details.
What do they demand? Well check-out their website. To sum it up, they have four things: equity in funding, end high stakes testing, inclusion of teachers and community in developing public education policy and locally developed curriculum. These demands push against the current popular policy tide stressing charter school expansion, competition for funding and connecting teacher evaluation and pay to test scores. The event rings of teachers saying they’ve had enough of being at the center of what’s wrong with public education. To their credit, they’ve attempted to move beyond the reactionary (even though there’s much to react to) to create a proactive (albeit broad) agenda.
Could you feel Justice Matters’ racial justice platform at work? Well, somewhat. This was a majority white and female crowd, among participants and organizers. Yes, this reflects the teaching profession, but it does present an SOS challenge for making sure the voices, vision and concerns of those most effected (poor Black and Brown folks) gets into the process and outcomes of their activism. But to their credit, some of the workshops and Kozol’s rousing analysis of our “separate and unequal” education system, did show that some of our racial justice message is still in the room.