Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teacher Oral History Project to Document the Destructive Impact of School Reform

 Every day, I get emails and facebook messages from teachers around the country describing the demoralizing conditions they are working in as a result of the "School Reform" movement unleashed by No Child Left Behind and y Race to the Top-conditions which are forcing teachers to retire en masse, seek medical help, and lose the ability to inspire their students or give them individual attention.

  Since the press and commercial media have refused to tell this story, I suggest that teachers, with or without the help of university based scholars, start telling these stories themselves.  One way to do this is to start teacher oral history projects in which teachers, either under their own names, or using psudonyms, describe what has been happening to them individually, and to their students and colleagues. This way, education activists, policy makers and historians of the future will have a record of a collective tragedy whose full dimensions have never seen the light of day.

 It is one thing to show, as a Met Life Survey has, that teacher satisfaction has plunded to the lowest level on record, dropping 25 percent since Barack Obama took office,  it is another to describe in detail why this has taken place, and what the texture of teachers lives has been since policy makers have started evaluating schools and individual teachers on the basis of student test scores, closing failing schools, giving preference to charter schools, and deluging schools with tests, all in the context of a relentless attack on teachers  in the commercial media.

In many societies, story tell is a time honored way of building community, and giving people the courage to resist unjust conditions. It can play this role today.  It's time to start documenting the damage, as a way of building the resistance.

If you want to start such a project in your own town or school district, please contact me at I have experience in creating community based oral history projects (see and can give you some advice in how to get one started

1 comment:

Herculano Fecteau said...

As long as this is not the extent of our protest: to deliver these testimonies to the people like the pronouncement of a eulogy at a funeral for public education. There have at least been a few isolated but powerful examples of what teachers, public workers and citizens can do to begin to stem the tide -- the Wisconsin General Strike and State House Occupation, the Chicago Teachers Strike, the teachers, students and parents in Seattle, Colorado and Philadelphia who are mobilizing to resist standardized testing and school closings -- which should give us some hope to turn things around.

Furthermore, workers and other citizens in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Latin America are standing up, combatively, to oppose the dark future that the banks, corporations, generals and their servile politicians are attempting to fashion for humankind. Are we going to roll over and play dead, or are we going to fight?

Finally, we shouldn't be fighting a holding action to preserve just some of the gains we have made over the decades. We should start to be bold and demand more, not always just in the areas of compensation and social benefits, but in terms of control over the entire education process. To explore, for example, the prospect of demanding and establishing first schools, then entire school districts, be run, not by highly paid administrators and consultants in business suits (jackets and ties. pant suits or skirts) but by democratically established committees of teachers, students, parents and community members.

This should be a model to hold up, as well, for others among the public who are fed up, not just with the corporatization of education, but with the growing corporate and financial domination of civil society. We will only do this effectively by relying on our own power and resources -- protests, rallies, strikes, sick-outs, occupations, the establishment of action groups and committees and ultimately (without too long of a wait, because we haven't much time) our own political organization -- and by breaking the hegemony of Democratic politicians over the process of resistance.