TENNESSEE BATs ATTEND D.C. RALLY
BY: ANDY SPEARS
The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.
Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.
Here’s what they had to say:
1) Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?
Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.
Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.
2) What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?
Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.
Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.
3) What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?
Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.
Sanson: I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.
4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?
Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.
Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.
5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?
Hopson: We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.
Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.
6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?
Hopson: I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.
Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students. We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.
7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?
Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.
Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone
Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.
8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?
Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.
While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”
Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!
Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”