Thirteen and a Half Years a Slave by Peggy Marie Savage
May 17, 2014 recognized the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. It was supposed to be a sixty year victory over segregation and a celebration of the unanimous Supreme Court decision combined five separate cases and overturned a long standing separate but equal law. In Washington , D.C this year will be coveted with a sea of blue wearing supporters that want to reclaim the promise. The promise that all children must have access to a high - quality education from early childhood through college . You’ll hear the rally cry to to urge the Supreme Court to continue to carry out the decision of this historic case in 1954. Five cases coming before the Supreme Court as one . The five cases that nudged the Supreme Court to side on the side of integration rather than segregation.
1954 , five years before my birth. A birth that took place in Ft. Pierce , Florida. Both of my parents grew up in the south. And by birth I am also a southerner . Even with the court decision in 1954 growing up some folks felt that my siblings and I didn’t belong. That we should “go back where we came from, Africa.” I knew about my ancestry. I connected with my African heritage from both my mother and father and with my ancestors who were slaves. I also connected with my parents proud southern heritage , Baton Rouge , Louisiana and Macon & Tifton , Georgia. There was definitely no shame felt by me but………….
My birth place was Fort Pierce , Florida and my parents at the time were share croppers. They moved to Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania where my siblings and I were formally educated . Many times I looked around for someone who looked like me , someone who felt the anger of being signaled out because of the color of my skin. Someone who was reminded of the past my ancestors felt daily : an intentional reminder of slavery. The scars of slavery and its institutional belief that a group of human beings’ purpose on earth was to do the bidding of others despite the harm to their well being and the safety of their kin. That kind of irresponsible thinking has surfaced in Philadelphia for the past thirteen years. The scars are evident. This form of slavery disengages the brightest students and their teachers and constantly reminds them that only the charters and independent schools are worthy of the state’s attention even the the fortitude of public school students and educators garner the same attention and respect.
Now a days teachers settle in to evaluate P.V.A.A. S ( the Pennsylvania Valued Added Assessment System) growth. A report card of sorts that clearly allows the state of Pennsylvania to determine the measure of a students’ success and the success of their teacher based on P.V.A.A.S. This three year roll - out that includes different students from those three years tells a teacher the rate of success and that gets factored into the principal’s and state’s assessment of the teacher if she or he remains in the same grade. Sounds complicated doesn’t it?
Slavery has taken many forms in America. Many cities have now being inundated by private and charter companies. Companies that have eradicated neighborhood schools and replaced them with , “ scripted , well rehearsed , and one year contract schools.” A kind of slavery that leaves teachers voiceless in the presence of operators that know nothing about education. A form of slavery in the City of Brotherly Love , is the notion that traditional public schools can somehow work miracles with practically no support from the city, state, and federal government(s). Children lacking the general resources to help them survive daily life are oftentimes expected to perform on standardized tests and exceed previous P.V.A.A. S growth predictions set by the state of Pennsylvania.
Lacking in this kind of warehouse or assembly line education is the destruction of a foundation that shapes all students regardless of the religious or cultural mindset.
It shapes the very foundation that we stand on. This same foundation that has been swept out from under students here in the city of Philadelphia. The very fabric that should bind and keep students and their teachers from unraveling is no longer there. In 2001 The No Child Left Behind Law ( NCLB) an iteration of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act ( ESEA) was suppose to raise achievement and close achievement gaps. Both laws penalize teachers and their effectiveness in raising test scores and AYP status.
Students and teachers have been slaves to measures that culturally disconnect their very thoughts, practice , and the way they interact with their students. Unimaginable to succumb to four to five weeks of administering tests for fourth & fifth graders. The emotional and physical toll suffered is immeasurable. The strenuous schedules and demands are too much as you watch a child just break down and cry because of the stress. No amount of preparation can ready you for such a sight.
I seek to engage you in a conversation. A conversation of the haves and have nots, full funding communities for public education , and reclaiming the promise for a generation of students who have been left out of this conversation and have had their seats sold to the highest private and chartered businesses.
Thirteen Years a Slave ,and an unprecedented thirteen years of bondage to the N.C.L.B Act. . An agenda that started in December 2001. This was suppose to be the answer to educational reform. The bondage of human beings and their ideals have never seem to be a way to progress in America. The Emancipation Proclamation was suppose to be the answer and yet………………
As an active member of the W.E. ( Working Educators of the P.F.T) I urge everyone to step back and just think for a minute . Can private and charter schools alone shape America in the next fifty years as a productive and global powerhouse? Or we will spend most of those productive years standing on the backs of public school educators , stripping away the importance of committed veteran teachers and dedicated beginning teachers , loyal students and parents or do we cast them away only to replace them with less experienced Teacher for America teachers (TFA’ers) that in most cases require mentor teachers within the buildings where they teach.
Force transfers and layoffs are conditions that some of my colleagues have been experiencing in the last five to seven years. One such colleague is now in her ninth school in nine years, utterly ridiculous!
I leave you with this thought:
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work under unthinkable conditions.
Many educators are slave to the Common Core, state micro managed doctrine , and school boards that want to rid their schools of the LeBron’s and Bryants and replace them with the ball boys on the team. Slavery was and still is an ugly word. It is the system of striking down anyone who challenges and who tries to get up from being knocked down repeatedly time and time again! As teachers we must rise above the bullshit and remain professional and educate our parents about what is happening and what is about to come.
As charter systems continue to buy and sell our closed down school buildings and build new schools is it possible that they are they now the new slave owners? Their teachers work under one year contracts and know that the colleague standing next to them may or may not be certified ?
Is this the America that dedicated and skilled educators are expected to flourish in the 2014 - 2015 school year? Can students thrive ? Will they be supported? Can parents trust the rhetoric that spills out of politicians mouths or will cities replace every single school to charters, like New Orleans?