Sunday, June 23, 2013

From the BTA Facebook Community

"I'm a little hesitant to post this, but I sense very different levels of information regarding the struggle to reclaim public education from corporate interests. Here goes:

I am proud to be counted among the members of this group. I have fought the fight publicly in other forums, including face to face conversations with "reformyers (to borrow a phrase by the Jersey Jazzman)." I have not read every post here, so please forgive me if I'm restating other ideas.

I taught from 1977 - 1984, left for a 2nd career in corporate America, then returned to the profession in 2001. I've been teaching ever since and just completed my Masters in Education Leadership. My intent was to become a principal; now my intent is to work with my colleagues to reclaim public education.

We have a real opposition. It is well funded, well organized, determined and does not care about us (or kids or parents). Their goal is to use existing laws to gain financially from public education. If the existing laws don't favor them they have the means to create laws that do, and to elect legislators to push their agenda. They have a small piece of truth - that the problems we face, especially in schools in impoverished neighborhoods - are often beyond our ability to overcome.

Their deep pocketed funders include media moguls, business giants and other wealthy folks who truly believe that market forces can make things better for kids while providing profit for those willing to risk investment. So why not? In their minds they have convinced themselves that they have the moral high ground, both economically and socially. We're not fighting people who see themselves as evil, even when Kevin Huffman, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Andrew Cuomo, Arne Duncan,Wendy Kopp, Michele Rhee and their ilk do everything in their power to demoralize and disenfranchise us.

They hate unions, and our unions have not done an effective job countering their message. When Dennis Van Roekel stands on stage with Wendy Kopp, that's a problem. As teachers we try to model civil behavior and encourage the same by our students in our classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, gymnasiums and playgrounds. Our opposition does not play by the same rules. They don't care- they have too much to lose.

Their tactics have set us against each other, parents against us, politicians against us; you know the drill. By saying they put Students First,that they Teach forAmerica,that they want Excellent Education for Everyone, they effectively imply we don't.

They count on the bad economy driving resentment of our pensions and benefits. They count on the reasonable despair of parents whose kids are locked in dangerous schools to drive support for vouchers, charters and choice. They promise the moon by cutting us off at the knees, and to this point, because we play by our classroom rules, we have let them. The good news for us is, their way has not worked for the most part.

If we are to fight effectively, we have to fight on our own terms, not theirs. We will not win their fight, they cannot win ours. Our fight will be to advocate not for teachers, students, parents, administrators or even taxpayers, but to advocate for the PROCESS of teaching and learning. In order to fight we need to develop a set of principles, which we consistently deliver throughout all communication. We need to engage politically on every level and develop alliances of our own. We have to be calm, patient and as determined as our foes, who see us as the problem.

Thanks to the internet, grassroots organizing can be extremely effective - 10000 members in a week. All of us contacting the White House on Monday demanding the removal of Arne Duncan and his replacement with someone who has actually worked successfully in a classroom (which eliminates Michele) is a good start. 10000 phone calls? They know that 10000 calls represents 120000 angry people. The same thing needs to happen on a state level. If the Kochs can buy an election in Wake Forest, we can call Tennesee to support our colleagues.

I will not presume to dictate our talking points and principles, but I humbly suggest a few to get us started:

The process of teaching and learning is not simple
Responsibility is shared by all stakeholder groups
The old ways don't always work for everyone, neither do the new automatically
Standardized tests have value when used properly; they do a tremendous disservice to the process when misused
Kids do not all learn the same thing in the same way at the same time; simply "differentiating instruction" will not guarantee that outcome
Teachers know things
Parents know things
Administrators know things
Politicians know things
Students know things
Policy wonks know things but work for those who will pay them
There are schools that face enormous challenge everyday. They need more support and they still won't win every time
Good education is expensive; bad education is more so
We don't improve the process by punishing teachers
We are not perfect, we are happy to work to improve our craft

Our opposition is formidable. They absolutely have a national strategy that they are executing successfully on a state to state basis.

We have the moral high ground; we need to act that way and proclaim it. Consistently, calmly, relentlessly."

-Mike Kaufman

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