Saturday, September 13, 2014

Arne meets Meghan!
 BY:  Meghan Vaziri.

Here is my report from my meeting with Arne Duncan. I held up two signs at the rally (picture included). A neighborhood man asked me about the signs and said he had heard of this TCAP - I told him he could refuse it for his kids or grand kids, and he was surprised - then he asked if he could hold a sign! After the very short rally, complete with high school marching band, it was announced that "guests" of the town hall meeting should enter the building. I stuffed my signs behind a bush and entered as if I were a guest. 
I sat near the middle of the library (which was very sparse in terms of books) and took out my sketch pad. They had a performance of high school kids who were dancing to Elvis songs, and moving their lips to them - not singing themselves. I wrote on a sheet of paper: Arts Education NOT Test Prep and held it up. Some very well dressed men behind me told me they agreed with my sign - but they clearly didn't want everyone to know they agreed with me. I saw some people I know - "education reformers" - Marc Sturgis, formerly of Stand for Children, now with Strive, Jacklyn Zubrzyski, reporter for Chalkbeat (she took the photo below), the Assistant Superintendent of the I-Zone schools, and others. The ones I knew seemed to find it odd that I was in that meeting - but they didn't tell on me! No one even asked me to put my signs down, which I was surprised about - I suppose they didn't want to cause a scene. 
I held up signs the whole time Arne Duncan was talking - Lower Class Sizes when he said the answer to 30-student Kindergarten classes was
for "faith-based" organizations to offer free tutoring to these large classes, Refuse the TCAP, Trust Teachers and Listen to Parents, and others (I would change them when I got bored of holding them - I think everyone was reading my signs, they were the least boring thing in the whole meeting). Arne Duncan was looking very uncomfortably at me the whole time - afraid I would start arguing in the middle of the town hall, I guess. Maybe I should have. The President of the MSCEA Keith Williams sat down behind me. At one point, he asked a very good question: Will there always be takeover of the bottom 5%, even if the bottom 5% improve and are doing very well? Barbic claimed there will not always be takeover of the bottom 5%. When I raised my hand to ask a question, they would not give me the mic. At one point, a man who had been raising his hand just started talking- they listened. I guess I could have done that. Someone asked Barbic, Superintendent of the ASD, why those test scores weren't so good, and he said it was the quality of the teachers in the ASD that was the problem. I knew he was this type of person, so I wasn't surprised he threw his teachers under the bus, but I know he convinced a lot of people he supported them - in order to convince them to work for his district. A few years later, they're the problem. At the end of the meeting, I left early to go stand by Arne Duncan's bus and hold a sign. They had thrown away the signs I put behind the bush. Luckily, I had more signs in my bike bag! I stood next to the bus and a security guard grabbed my sign, "I'm gonna have to take this sign." Me: "Where do you want me to stand?" "It doesn't matter where you stand, I need to get this sign." I didn't let go of the sign. He was pulling pretty hard. "This is MY sign. I'll stand where ever you tell me to stand, but you're not taking my sign." "Okay, go stand on the other side of the street." "Okay, I'll go stand on the other side of the street." And I did. When people walked by to leave the meeting, I would yell "Teachers not Test-givers!" or "Refuse the Test!" A lot - maybe even 50% of them -- responded positively with a thumbs up or "you're right." These were the same people who were so silent and docile in the meeting with Arne, which I had also sat through holding signs. So, clearly, they'll act like they agree with the corporate testing agenda to save their jobs, but many of them don't really agree with it. I had a long and very entertaining conversation with the bus driver, Glenn. During that conversation, a high-powered-looking business man came over to me and tried to argue with me, "So why do you think we shouldn't have tests?" "We should have tests - teacher-made tests, but standardized tests are turning learning into nothing but test prep. In kindergarten, children test prep all day - they aren't allowed to learn by playing." "Okay," he said, making fun of me (trying to get the bus driver on his side), "Have you ever run a business?" "Have YOU ever looked at the educational system in Finland? They don't test kids until they're 16 years old and they have the best scores in the world." "Yeah, but they also have really great teachers." "Because they TRUST their teachers." Him: "Okay, I guess this is a chicken and egg thing." And I said "Yes guess so." and turned to talk to some more people walking by. The high-powered business man walked off. Jeff Peck, former editor of the Commercial Appeal, gave me his card when he was leaving. He now works for a philanthropy group and doesn't know much about why I'm protesting, but would like to know more so they can donate their money more effectively. I'm supposed to meet him for coffee sometime. At one point a whole car full of people gave me the thumbs up when they drove off-- they had been in the meeting, too. As I stood on the sidewalk, a kid bicycled past, and I said, "You don't have to take the TCAP!" He said "Really?" He was very surprised. I said yes, tell your parents. An old woman went by in an electric wheelchair and I told her you could refuse the TCAP for your kids. She stopped to ask more questions. Well, that's about all, until Arne Duncan finally came out in an SUV with his Secret Service. As they pulled out of the drive, he got out of his vehicle and came over to me, saying, "I know we disagree on a lot of things, but I want to thank you because you care." I should have said "ALL teachers care, you scheduled this during school hours or you would have had a lot more teachers here." But I didn't think of that. I do think he was implying that I was the only teacher who cared or disagreed with him. I told him about test prep in kindergarten and so on. He asked me, if I wasn't teaching right now, what was I doing? "I'm doing art." "Art?!" he said, as if he must have misheard me. Why was he so surprised? "Yeah, you can look at my website, " He said he would do that (although he didn't ask how to spell it or anything) and then he asked if he could shake my hand. I held my signs in one hand and shook his with the other. His camera guy got a photo. And then he left, and Glenn said, "See, I told you he was a nice guy." I said, "I'm not saying he's not a nice guy, I'm just saying he doesn't know anything about education." And then I said goodbye to Glenn and left. (By the way, later that night I went to the Member meeting of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center - Memphis BATS needs to get in contact with that group - they can help us organize and they are friendly to our cause.)

Here is a further report of Arne's visit to TN in TN Ed Report

Here is Luci BAT


  1. Thank you for sharing this TNBATs story. TNBATs speak truth to power and work hard to ensure an open dialogue is available for all stakeholders who care about public ed in TN.


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