BATs July 28, 2014 Speech
By: Dr. Yohuru Williams
Mr. Duncan in May of 1894, Jacob Coxey, and his Army marched on Washington DC in the wake of a worldwide depression to petition the government for jobs for the unemployed. Coxey opened his speech, not too far from here, invoking the promise of American democracy
“We choose this place of assemblage” he told his audience, “because it is the property of the people.
"Up these steps,” he continued, “the lobbyists of trusts and corporations have passed unchallenged on their way to committee rooms, access to which we, the representatives of the toiling wealth-producers, have been denied.”
120 years later we have come in the same spirit and with a similar message.
We choose the DOE and Washington DC as our place of assemblage because it remains the property of the people and you have been entrusted as our servant. Yet, in these halls, corporations and billionaires have hijacked public education from its true representatives the parents and teachers and students whose voices you have denied.
We have come today not only to reclaim this space; but also to renew our children’s faith that democracy is not for sale and that the will of the people in America still matters. I know that you can read our t-shirt and signage Mr. Duncan—but the United States Constitution is also our calling card. The preamble of which boldly identifies us by both name and politics. For you may call us rabble-rousers or stats, teachers, parents or BATs—but let me be clear “We are also the people.” And as the people we have come to demand that you respect our deep investment in the Union as well as our vision of the future.
Mr. Duncan, you should know that the educators who make up the BATS live by three principles
People over Profits
Parity over Charity
And Choice over Chance—because if you let the people decide the future of public education we would spare no expense to ensure that our children had access to the highest quality of instruction, in the safest spaces, with a full complement of courses and counseling, health and human services to help them realize their dreams. That, after all, Mr. Duncan is the cornerstone of the American Dream. It is why we pay taxes—not to bail, out prop up, or kowtow to the corporation, but to invest in the future of our nation. Not for the profits of the CEO’s but to see just how much a child’s ambition grows when we place a premium on human dignity.
How, you may ask Mr. Duncan have the policies pursued by the DOE and so called education reformers from Oregon to Oklahoma, Kansas to Connecticut, and New York to Nebraska contributed to these problems. Let me count the ways.
When you came to the department, you pledged a new initiative, Race to the Top that was supposed to encourage innovation—instead it has produced despair and devastation. The people have cried out for relief pointing to the debilitating impact of these policies that have become little more than a slow and deliberate strangulation of the rights of parents, teachers, and our public schools.
And what are these deadly ligatures of strangulation:
Mr. Duncan you have pushed the Common Core and high stakes testing in education telling us that our students lag behind the rest of the world on every measure of success. But our children turn on the television and see a world awash in violence where a fundamental misunderstanding of history, language, culture coupled with technology run amok has in the immortal words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King produced guided missiles and misguided men. The solution to this dilemma lies in the schools in those so-called soft subjects dismissed by yours and the previous administration as unnecessary and in a celebration of STEM devoid of humanity. We want our children to live, grow and contribute to a world where people do not live in fear of violence misdirected but rights protected. We want our students reared on a model of profitable human compassion that can restore our crumbling cities and revive our economy in a way that privileges and protects families. In other words Mr. Duncan we don’t just want our children to lead the world, we want them to heal it with a leadership of empathy and not arrogance. Our common core is humanity not vanity.
Mr. Duncan, your have positioned technology as the solution to the education problem and labeled us as technophobes for fairly questioning the appropriate use of technology. Despite your characterization, we do not fear the future we are simply all too mindful of the mistakes of the past. America needs highly qualified teachers. Our children deserve useful technology and not technology for technology’s sake. What is good for Apple and Pearson cannot and should not be the measure of our public schools. That’s not innovation Mr. Duncan-its corporatization—and we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan, you have made everything about the collection of data—reducing our youth to test scores. If only you would take the time to see our students as we do. They are first and foremost children, students and scholars who pursue divergent interest. Many have special needs. They are concerned about the future and often wonder why the DOE is working so diligently to close the door of opportunity on them by creating a one size fits all approach to education. They need individualized attention, competent special education instruction and a full range of interventions to assist them. And yet Mr. Duncan millions of public school children across the country have seen class sizes balloon due to teacher layoffs and budget cuts. We have had to hear your painfully unfortunate comments concerning special education students. That’s not innovation—its alienation. And we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan, communities around the nation have witnessed highly qualified teachers let go and replaced by novice teachers trained through Teach for America. While we do not question the sincerity of your recruits—we have every right to be puzzled by your definition of “highly qualified.” While you and other so called education reformers have touted the benefits of placing largely unprepared TFA faulty in front of our children presenting them as a the vanguard of a new model of rigorous instruction—we have witnessed the catastrophic impact this has had on the children and the novice teachers themselves. Mr. Duncan, That’s not innovation—its falsification. And we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan, you pledged that you would help root out racial disparity and inequality in the allocation of resources in our schools but your privileging of charters over true investment in our urban schools has been disastrous and the segregation of Latino youth in particular is appalling. For many of us who labor in schools deeply impacted by the maintenance of a two tiered system of education that mirrors the two America’s separate and unequal identified by the 1967 Kerner Commission, we struggle to reconcile our reality with your rhetoric. Mr. Duncan, this is not innovation its re-segregation—shameful, immoral and illegal. And we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan Federal aid to states for education has drop precipitously creating a very real crisis in our public schools. In Philadelphia, Mr. Duncan in two incidents less than 8 months apart two students, a 12-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy died of asthma attacks in schools where the nurse’s hours had been slashed as part of budget cuts. They are unfortunate martyrs to government arrogance and indifference. Mr. Duncan that’s not innovation—its an abomination. Is life so cheap?
Mr. Duncan districts across the country have cut funding to music and the arts—and time diverted away from core subjects to meet STEM and testing mandates. We will not be silent; we will not rest until you fully restore music and arts. It is a crime that in the city of Duke Ellington, a product of public education, the DOE promotes policies that limit instructional time for students to explore other avenues of creativity including privileging the development of the whole child both minds and hearts. Mr. Duncan that’s not innovation is suppression. It is misguided and fundamentally un-American. And we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan, you claimed that the forces of the free market Merit pay and competition would awaken a new spirit of innovation among teachers. Instead, you have presided over the stripping teachers of the most basic protections associated with democracy the promise of due process embedded in teacher tenure. Mr. Duncan, that is not innovation its subjugation. And we are not buying it.
Mr. Duncan when parents, and teachers, and students have petitioned for redress, asked your department to listen to the will of the people rethink these policies so detrimental to kids, schools and communities, you have ignored us-that’s not innovation—its instigation and its provocation
And so he we are:
We aint buying it.
And when we come upstairs Mr. Duncan you should painfully aware that you will sit down with a group of teachers who are committed to the premise that this democracy has the potential to be a just democracy and we as the Bats will insist on a just democracy and nothing less.
So Mr. Duncan, let me conclude by saying to you –you rode into office pledging to usher in an era of new innovation- instead you brought frustration and devastation. Worst still you’ve undermined the very essence of participatory democracy. From Detroit to Dallas we need less of Michelle Rhee and John King, Steve Perry and Paul Vallas. What we really need is Hope and Change. But we are defining it differently than your boss. For Hope and change for us HOPE means Honor our Public Education and Change course from the destructive policies that will set us back a generation.
Mr. Duncan, Sam Walton, Eli Board, the Koch Brothers, and Bill Gates are not the representatives of the American people. They do not own American democracy. We refuse to have our children’s futures brought and sold like stocks on Wall Street to the highest bidder. So we come here, the property of the people to let you know as the day is warm. If we think you’re wrong. The Bats are gonna swarm.