Yesterday's Common Core Forum in New Hyde Park, a Long Island suburb just east of Queens, was one of the most inspiring events I have attended in some time, and one which shows some of the new directions political activism is taking at a time when bi-partisan School Reform are deluging our public schools with high stakes tests, the latest aligned to a national initiative called the Common Core Standards.
It was not the size of the crowd, over 125 people, and the intelligence and passion of the speakers and organizers- Teacher/Author Kris Nielsen, Students Rights Attorney Nick Agro, and Parent Activist Jeanine Baxter Cozzetti-- that made this event unusual, it was where it took place and who was there. In the last five years, I have been at protest rallies in lower Manhattan connected to Occupy wall street, at African American church in Queens helping organizing a campaign to fix up long abandoned buildings, and in Bronx meeting halls joining protests against abusive police practices, but last night was the first time I was part of a protest of suburban, middle class parents who displayed the same fierce determination and capacity for creative protest that these other groups did. Those of us who have been social justice activists for a long time have our own kinds of stereotypes and expectations of what protesters look like and few of them would have described the people gathered last night at the New Hyde Park Elks Club- who looked like, and were, a cross sections of parents and teachers from middle class Long Island Communities.
But these folks were as fired up as any group I have ever seen about what they perceive- in my view correctly- as an bi-partisan attempt to hijack their children's education and squeeze every ounce of joy and creativity out it, and they were ready for action. After participating in the April test revolt and Opt Out movement the group had organized phone ins and mail ins to state education officials, delegations and flash mobs to greet local politicians and had launched a Facebook page, Parents and Teachers Against the Common Core, which had attracted 2000 members And they were no where near done. The purpose of the forum was to enroll new people in their circle of activism, and large groups of people came to the front after it was over to do just that The main leaders of the group, Sara Wotowa and Jeanine Baxter-Cozzetti, both parents of young children,are two of the most brilliant and creative organizers I have met, even though they had little past experience as political activists. And what they have created is truly unique. They have created a movement that has brought together Republicans, Democrats and Independents, conservatives, libertarians, liberals, and progressives- all of them horrified at the collusion of Big Government and Big Business in deluging the public schools with high stakes tests that elites would never let their own children take!!! They have organized a movement around the defense of children's right to an education where joy and creativity and inspired teaching are valued and promoted, and captured the imagination of thousands of parents and teachers who previously felt helpless to resist Federal and State policies
which seemed determined to snuff those out in the name of meeting global economic competition.
I do not know where this movement is headed and what it will accomplish, but I will say this- if Bill Gates and David Coleman, and Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo think Common Core Standards are going to be implemented in the public schools of New York State without significant push back and resistance, they'd better wake up and smell the cappuchino!
As Jeanine Baxter Cozzetti likes to put it "GAME ON!!"