Sunday, March 9, 2014

All I Really Need to Know about Corporate Education Reform (and why we should fight it) I Learned in Kindergarten
By:  Dr. Yohuru Williams

Sometimes the simplest explanations are the best ones. Robert Fulghum’s hugely popular All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten offers the basis for a brief but illuminating mediation on Corporate Education Reform and why teachers and parents everywhere have united to fight it. Fulghum identified 16 lessons—centered on the golden rule—that he argued remain valuable beyond the days of A is for apple. I have combined a few and eliminated a few others for the sake of brevity to reduce 16 to seven—but the larger point is the same. So without further ado:

  • Share everything. (Presumably, this was the impetus for Corporate Education Reform but the evidence suggests otherwise). The barter for charter system, for example has done little to eliminate the barriers to equal education posed by poverty and racism. In addition, few familiar enough with the Common Core to speak honestly about it would argue that it has democratized access to education. I suggest that you ask the so-called reformers themselves, if you can get them to “share” the podium. The problem is that they are more adept at dictating than collaborating. The heavy-handed manner in which they have attempted to stifle opposing viewpoints—see Chris Christie, John King, and Michelle Rhee - clearly reveals the need for some remedial education in the area of share and share alike.
  • Play fair.  (Of course, this is impossible when the ultimate measure of a student’s success is reduced to how well they perform on standardized tests). Recent cheating scandals, involving some of the luminaries of Corporate Education Reform, illustrate the danger of a hyper-competitive model of education that substitutes standardization for innovation instead of more organic and battle-tested measures of student achievement.  

·         Don't hit people. Or yell at people (Chris Christie), or make up facts (Stefan Pryor), or denigrate parents (Arne Duncan), or brag about taping the mouths of children shut (Michelle Rhee), or lie about test scores. Take your pick.  But seriously, the crass manner in which the apostles of corporate education reform have “engaged” parents and teachers from Connecticut to California  demonstrates how little respect they have for the communities or “children” whom they claim to value. See also: Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

·         Don't take things that aren't yours. Give back our school boards, our instructional time, our tax dollars, our instructional spaces, our professional development, our arts and recreation programs, our professionally trained teaching staffs and our right to speak. Corporate Education Reform very much resembles bullying in this regard. Nearly everything that it has “accomplished” has come by force. At the same time, we have seen national initiatives to challenge bullying in our schools; the intimidating and confrontational manner in which the Corporate Education Reformers have attempted to steamroll, teachers, and parents, into submission is as frightening as it is undemocratic. See also: Put things back where you found them & Clean up your own mess.
*Wash your hands before you eat. There is nothing worse than to share with dirty hands. While the agenda of most Corporate Reform agents is painfully clear, the insistence that what has drawn them to education is anything other than the desire to exploit public schools (like any other market) is insulting. Many of the apostles of Corporate Education Reform have become quite wealthy serving as consultants for charter schools and companies looking to turn a profit. The not so artful re-imagining of corporate raiders, as champions of education reform are just plain dishonest. Consider former Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, touted as an education guru, who left a wide swath of destruction in his wake. Their narrative has become stale—our schools are in crisis, teacher unions are the problem, charters offer the best hope for the future—that you can smell the stench of failure from a mile away. If they would ever agree to honest debate and collaboration with parents and teachers over bulldozer politics, I would share the wisdom of Kindergarten teachers everywhere, if you have ideas—we are perfectly willing to engage but remember this is a dialogue not a monologue - don’t break bread with dirty hands and expect us to eat in silence. See also Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Let children be children. The goal of education is not the creation of automatons, test-taking machines, to fuel the creation of a new technological workforce. The goal has always been to educate knowledgeable and productive citizens who can think for themselves and act to safeguard our democracy. Of all of the vocabulary words they will ever encounter, democracy is the most essential.  Our children have a right to an education that allows them to grow and develop organically as well as preparing them for the labor force without robbing them of their individual identity.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. This one is self-explanatory—but let me rephrase it for the sake of clarity . . . Restore music and the arts to public education.

The final admonition, is not so much a message for the Corporate Education Reformers as a reminder to those who have banded together to challenge their efforts to dismantle public education. “When you go out in the world,” Fulghum concluded in his masterful culling of those early lessons,—learned at a teacher’s knee, “watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” For all of the parents, teachers, and students who have made the battle against Corporate Education Reform a central part of their lives, this is good advice. As long as we continue to share, challenge, and grow together, we will overcome. In the words of Winston Churchill, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” We fight for these things and so much more—the future of our children.

Dr. Yohuru Williams is a professor of history at Fairfield University and a Badass Teacher Activist. Follow him on Twitter @yohuruwilliams


  1. Once again, we have a very well written article that focuses on the ADULTS ONLY education conversation, and their egos and their needs VERSUS addressing what is really happening in some of Americas schools and how the ADULTs (some teachers,principals,parents, lawmakers, local.state school boards,elected officials) FAIL miserably to keep kids SAFE, provide a quality teaching & leadership base for the MAJORITY of kids versus the select few based on race/zipcode/neighborhood, ...

    Those who can only find fault in the system are clearly part of the problem because you complain and blame most of the time and not necessarily in that order without offering solutions that produce equity in the classroom! Black & brown communities should be super cautious and suspicious around BOTH teacher Unions and Corporate Education reformers because BOTH entities see kids of color as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder and that is evident in the unnatural and gross amounts of money they poor into campaign contribution to buy a lawmakers silence or vote for laws that clearly do not educate all kids equitable nor equally - no matter the evils that exist within education reform parents STILL should TAKE their legal right to choose the best educational option to meet their childs academic and life skills because contrary to adult egos schools are about the student all day everyday and if parents or guardians of children don't protect kids who will? really who will?

  2. I disagree that unions view children as commodities. Look at associations on the local level, and you'll find community advocacy programs--the NJEA fosters the PRIDE initiative--and child advocacy actions, ex. CTU. To paint every faction of a union with the same brush is to teach short-sidedness.

  3. "without offering solutions that produce equity in the classroom!", that is so accurate demand.
    "if parents or guardians of children don't protect kids who will? really who will?". The answer points to the educator who has more knowledge, more experience, more years of learning in education system???
    Today, parents are overwhelmed with making their family survival needs. They can be a single parent, immigrant parents, high-schooled drop out parents. All PhD parents will have children in special school.

    As Gwendolyn Samuel's reply,Robert Fulghum and Dr. Yohuru Williams cannot provide a solution. As a result, what in the world is that her suggestion to have parents being responsible for the mess of the Corporate Education Reform. It only take a very few BAD teachers to enough turn parents supporting all flashy commercialized sweet promise from Corporate Education Reform.

    My suggestion is that all teachers must be accountable for their conscience in their teaching at any level in educating children's awareness of understanding the importance between profit and humanity, like freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. These necessary elements should be exemplified by teachers' actions, teaching lessons, and their participation in school, community and all field trips in museum, music events, sport events...

    Responsibility or duty without intelligence, knowledge, education will be abused by evil leaders in all fields. However, if words and action do not abide with "freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope", we need to watch out for that authority's promise. Back2basic.

  4. Federal education policies and the corporate take over of the American schoolhouse are focused on conformity and conscription. We are trying to produce a uniform product rather than complex and unique human beings. They can then be drafted into the service of industry to the uses of the 1%. We will obliterate the quirky artists, the one-track-minded mathematicians, the iconoclasts, the late bloomers, and all the dreamers. We insist that all children take an equal interest in and show an equal aptitude for the exact same academic offerings at the exact same point in time, ignoring everything we know about the effects of outside influences, individual brain development, and worst of all, personal talents and preferences. And when they don't comply and conform we shame them, berate them, restrict their freedoms and take away their summers.

    1. i agree that federal eduction policies focus on conformity and conscription. we need local control of the school and get the federal government out. the job of a teacher is to provide an environment for the student to learn and not to teach kids to become test takers. if i look back at the most effective teachers, they were the ones who inspired and motivated, which then resulted in me delving into the subject and pushing to a new and higher level. Can this be quantified in a test?