Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BAT's March on DC Speech


BY:  Mel Katz
A Compilation of Past Writings, Plus Some
BAT’s March on DC – July 28th, 2014

Good morning my fellow Badass Teachers! It is such an honor to be speaking here today.

My name is Melissa Katz, and I am 19 years old. I will be going into my sophomore year at The College of New Jersey in good ol’ crazy Jersey studying Urban Elementary Education. I am a student activist, traveling across New Jersey (and now DC!) attending different education events, testifying at the State Board of Education, and meeting so many different, inspiring people also in the fight for public education. I am also a part of the amazing group Save Our Schools New Jersey, a grassroots, non-partisan, and volunteer led and powered organization of over 20,000 parents and other concerned residents who believe that all New Jersey children should have access to high quality public education. And just last week, I decided to add one more thing to my plate by announcing that I will be running for the board of education in my town of South Brunswick, New Jersey.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do you want to go into education? Why do you want to be a teacher? Don’t you know how much more money you could be making in another profession?” Back in March I spoke at a rally for public education in Trenton, and my response is still the same as it was then: The answer to all of these questions is simple: I have an undeniable belief in and love for our public schools, because public education is the great equalizer among us.

Based off of endless research, it is clear that these so-called “reforms” – the big examples being common core, new standardized testing, expansion of charter schools and so-called “school choice,” and new teacher evaluation systems – are not the answer to the issues we have in education that are mainly from outside sources – poverty, growing income inequality, dangerous environments in urban districts, unstable home life for some children, slashed school funding that has caused a gross underfunding of our schools, unfunded mandates –  the list goes on, and these reforms are only going to worsen the issues we already have.

Public education us under attack. There is an effort by public education reformers to undermine what we know as public education, demoralize and dehumanize teachers and the teaching profession, and sell the false tale of the failure of students and teachers that can only be quote-un-quote “fixed” by promoting school choice and increased standardized testing. 

My response: The kids in this country are not guinea pigs for the state, corporations, big businesses, and venture philanthropists to experiment on. There is absolutely no proof that Common Core is going to quote-un-quote “improve education,” “close the achievement gap,” or any of the other claims it makes to magically fix education with absolutely no evidence or proof of validity. There is absolutely no proof for the use of student standardized test scores being a valid way to measure “teacher effectiveness,” yet we’re moving full steam ahead with using student standardized test scores being incorporated as a large portion of a teacher’s evaluation. None of the changes in education happening today have been tested, retested, peer reviewed, tested again, and then slowly implemented in stages as anything else would be done in the business world where these reforms are coming from.

Our schools are the livelihood, center, and bringing-together of our communities. And if there’s one thing I want everyone to walk away with, it is the understanding that my teachers are not common. They are one-of-a-kind educators who put their all into making sure that their students experience true learning. My teachers went above and beyond for me – they stayed after class and talked with me about anything and everything, from politics to English to my worries and life questions. My teachers answered my emails after midnight without question if I was concerned about something and stood by me though the peaks and downfalls in life. They provided me with support and guidance when I felt lost or worried. My teachers not only taught me in the classroom but they taught me about the bigger picture and the world as a whole. My teachers played a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – they developed personal relationships with me. And I can guarantee you that none these things will be found in a teacher evaluation or on any standardized test.

To quote Diane Ravitch from her piece “To Fight for Public Schools is to Fight for Democracy: “We oppose the status quo. We seek better schools for all children. We will work diligently with like-minded allies until we can turn the tide, turn it away from those who seek silver bullets or profits, and turn the tide towards those who work to restore public education as the public institution dedicated to spreading knowledge and skills, advancing equality of educational opportunity, and improving the lives of children and communities, while encouraging collaboration and a commitment to democratic values.”

At 19 years old, I am often reminded that I am ‘only a student.’ But I am not just a student – I’m a person with a voice. I’m a member of the state of New Jersey and our communities – I am a voting member of the state of New Jersey. I am a product of our schools that taught me how to think independently and creatively, not how to fill in a bubble on a standardized test. I stand behind our schools. I stand behind our educators. I stand behind our communities. And I stand in front of you to tell you that I will do whatever it takes to protect my schools for corporate takeover in any shape or form.

I, along with all of the other future public school teachers, must come together at this time and educate one another. We all must band together collectively, in partnership with current public school teachers, parents, students, and community members, and reclaim our future profession.

And beyond this collective partnership, us future teachers must fight for ourselves. We must fight for our profession. We must fight for our future students.

So to all of the future teachers out there: when someone asks you why you want to teach, saying that you want to be a fun teacher isn’t good enough; saying you want to make a difference is also not enough anymore. Tell people how you want to make a difference - and then do it. I want to teach my students about social justice and equity. I want to make change within my own classroom, within the community I teach in, and work to address the deep issues in society that impact the classroom such as poverty, income inequality, and children’s home lives. Words are no longer enough; action is required of all of us, individually and collectively.

We must all stay involved, be active, fight for what we believe in, and most importantly never let anyone convince us not to go into education - we are the next generations of teachers. The opportunity to reclaim public education from philanthropists, big businesses, and reformers is right in front of us, and it is imperative that we do so.

We have a voice that no one else has - we have nothing holding us back. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the attacks on our profession. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the reforms we know are not in the best interest of students, but rather only for those who can make money off of our students.

For the future of the teaching profession, we cannot afford to have future teachers who are anything less than passionate, dedicated, and ready to fight.

And we all must continue to push the same demands from the rally back in March I referenced earlier: Stop closing neighborhood schools. Stop attacking and scapegoating our educators. Stop the high-stakes testing madness. And fully fund our schools according to the law. Let's stand FOR our children, FOR our democracy, FOR great schools, FOR our dedicated teachers, and FOR local control!

We will win the fight for public schools, teachers, and students all across this country. We will win the fight against billionaires, philanthropists, for-profit corporations, and reformers seeking to line their pockets off of the backs of our students. We will win this fight for the future generations of artists, scientists, electricians, creators and inventors. We will win this fight so I, as a future public school teacher, can walk into the classroom on my very first day, look around the room, and know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. We will win this fight so I can stand proudly and one day, in the near future, say that I am one badass teacher.

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