Sunday, June 18, 2017

My BAT Anniversary by Cheryl Binkley

Four years ago today, I joined the Badass Teachers Association, June 17, 2013.

I was coming off being department chair which put me smack in the middle of remediating students for the graduation barrier exam in English, and struggling with my soul as we all– teachers, parents, and students-- slept poorly and cried over repeated attempts as the few remaining young people who were new to the state, new to the country, and/or learning challenged tried repeatedly to pass a stacked deck Pearson multiple choice test in order to graduate.

The year had been fraught with extreme administrative bullying of several highly effective colleagues that included outright fabrication of meetings that never happened, and as their building rep, I was wondering how long I might last in a school I loved, but whose management had crossed the line when it came to ethical conduct.

I don’t remember how or why I came across BATs and their mission on facebook. I was, I think, just browsing.
BATs was three days old, and still, compared to today, a tiny rag-tag group of resistors. They were 3 days old, I felt 100 years.
The thought that there were others struggling to remain teachers, remain ethical, and fighting for their students, schools, and colleagues was like a miracle reaching out from my computer.

I was not alone.
My heart soared.
Between us we would find ways to figure out why and how malevolent forces were strangling our students, schools, and profession– and together fight back.

At that time the narrative in the public square was that schools were failing, and that teachers were not just failures, but were unintelligent slackers incapable of teaching or leading anyone or anything, and it was being broadcast on all channels every morning on the way to work.

Takeovers, followed by charter schools were supposed to be the silver bullet for “school improvement.” The Republican coalition- ALEC was pushing up to 60 anti-education bills a year through state legislatures with only a peep of notice here and there, and Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Alice Walton were just the top tier of billionaires pouring hundreds of billions into dismantling public schools as we had known them. The US Department of Ed, while run by the Obama Administration, was firmly in the camp of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that had no understanding of schools, and would even pair with ALEC to push takeovers and profitizing of schools in poor neighborhoods.

Those first days of BATs were daunting as we began to realize the staggering size of the Tsunami we were facing. The anti-schools forces had at least a 10 year head start on us! They had established astro-turf groups, hired lobbyists, and their money and power both intimidated and attracted policy makers and managers at every level.

But Marla Kilfoyle, Priscilla Sanstead, and Mark Naison who had the idea for BATs were not daunted, and neither were the hundreds and soon thousands flocking to BATs daily. The numbers of new BATs that first year were amazing, and each one was calling out thank you, thank you for the lifelines they/we needed.

In what has to be among the most successful grassroots efforts of this time, BATs grew and teachers across the country spoke out, in their schools, in their communities, and in their legislatures. We challenged poor management, federal mandates, state regulations and bills, and the public propaganda about our schools. We were scrupulous with the truth, and with telling it far and wide.

Soon there were annual gatherings, and quickly Union Caucuses were established (thank you Becca Ritchie and the Washington BATS who established an NEA BAT caucus). The Union caucuses began to push back against infiltration of our Unions by Gates and the billionaires and the failure narrative that was being taught even to our colleagues.

In state houses such as Virginia, New York, Ohio, California, and virtually the whole nation we worked to inform our legislators, and ALEC began to be handed defeats of their once smoothly passed anti-schools legislation. We challenged Reform governors and mayors on both sides of the aisle who were syphoning funds from schools to cronies.

BATS began to run for union positions, school boards, and public offices.

The Quality of Worklife team ran a Worklife survey that attracted 30,000 participants, and reframed some of the conversation at the Department of Ed.

Today, I am retired from teaching. I retired a year ago, about 3 years earlier than I planned, not because I had to, but because I needed to go upstream. Being downstream, trying to save the drowning was not the work I was called to do. I needed to intervene before parents and students were crying and haggard from lack of sleep over testing– to stop the bullying of teachers at the policy level and to declare to the whole world, not just my administrators that students are so much more than test scores, and it is growth, not measuring stature that is the mark of learning.

I needed to intervene further back in the process, before the reformers could flood our schools with destruction and dysfunction. It would mean less retirement money, but with some management I could make it work, and so far have.

And to be honest, I could no longer practice the kind of teaching that was best for my students in the atmosphere of standardization that has continued to eat away at our schools. You see, we have not “won” yet, the battle still rages. That 10 years head start the Reformers got still threatens, and Gates, Broad, and Walton have been joined by the big 5 tech companies whose coffers are bottomless.

We still have much work to do, and we do it only with our own time and resources. The first 4 years of BATs has been entirely run by volunteers, self funded by teachers for teachers with only minor grants from other grassroots groups who share our cause.

I am on the blog team, admin. for my state BATs page, and help with assorted other BAT groups. In addition I work with a Coalition of County employees in my home county and my state teachers groups, and I am working on a book that includes changing the metaphor for education away from the business and competition model that reformers have pushed so hard.

Today, I’d like to thank all my BATs friends and colleagues– The Founding BATs and the current Board and Steering Groups, our guiding lights Marla, Priscilla, and Melissa, the Artist BATs on Meme Team whose work is so important to the success of our movement and I expect will someday be collected and lauded for posterity, The Bloggers, and Twitter and Action BATs who watch and counter those nasty propaganda pieces, The Virginia BATs and other state BATs groups who advocate so strongly in their local communities and state legislatures, the BATs who have joined and fostered Opt-Out Movements, and the BATs who have stood up for civil rights of our children.

There are over 63,000 of us now on the main BAT page, and almost 1000 on the Virginia state page.

And here’s the thing I know– BATs are saving children and schools.

We have changed the narrative, and continue to pass the truth of our lives and our lifes’ works on to those in the public square, our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and policy makers.

BATs are truth tellers, and nurturers, intellectuals, and activists. They are, to put it bluntly, saviors. I know because you all saved me.

So today, as I start my 5th year as a BAT– Thank you all for making sure when I needed a compatriot and friend that I would have many, and more every day.

In Solidarity,
to the Ramparts,

Cheryl Binkley

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