Monday, August 1, 2011

SOS March, Teachers Fight Back!

According to organizers some 5,000 teachers and allies descended on Washington DC, Saturday. Flanked by the White House at one far end and the Washington Monument at the other, attendees demanded that Washington end NCLB! The subtext of the march was clear, stop blaming teachers for failures in education. Was  it a success? Well, teachers were certainly energized. But what longterm effects it will have on our education policy discourse is as yet unknown. A multitude of voices were certainly present, but what message did they communicate and what might they have missed?

  Here is some food for thought: 
A. Who? What? When? Where? and Why?, The teacher's argument about school conditions is compelling but they're missing a key ingredient. A substantive discussion about "why" the most prosperous nation in the world has produced such substandard public education. They are great at explaining the "who". Conservatives, Republicans, Obama. Hence the popular "Hey Hey Ho Ho, Arne Duncan has got to go" chant. They can even explain the "what", "when" and "where" about the problem.  Our urban schools, deteriorating over time, under resourced, over tested. But the missing part in the rally was the "why". Why are things the way the are? Why has nothing been done? Why are all the wrong things done? Why doesn't anyone seem to care that we're basically killing public schools? This missing x factor diminishes the power of all the rest. The "why" may be the ugly anchor we need to awaken the American public. We hesitate with the "why" because it must include a legacy of racism; both institutionalized and individual. Not all children are being thrown away. Our best public schools rank nicely against those around the world. White and upper class children, have and still do fare far better than their student of color counterparts. It's children of color we've quietly decided are expendable. The inconvenient truth and reality is that the nation's shifting demographic has made this racist foundation impractical. 
B. The second missing piece was answering "what needs to be done to truly improve teaching in America's public schools". Merit pay and high stakes testing accountability don't work. But let's concede that there are teachers in the system who need better support and training. What fundamental structures should be put in place to improve teaching? Let's define what a healthy national teaching system might contain. What are other countries doing in the name of great teaching and teaching professionalism? To ignore that the teaching profession isn't in great need of local, state and national assistance to improve the product they offer is to leave your argument vulnerable for others to fill in the blank with bad ideas. 
SOS marchers braved the heat to call attention to their cause. 

An NCLB graveyard. May imagination, creativity, and critical thinking RIP.

Matt Damon addresses SOS marchers. 

The march to the White House

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