Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Rise of the Badass Teachers Association- A Brief History

The Badass Teachers Association began as a modest attempt to capitalize on the energy of a parent led test revolt that took place in New York during the Spring of 2013 and turned, unexpectedly into a huge protest movement by teachers across the nation

In April of this year, about 10,000 families decided to opt their children out of state tests in New York. One of the strongest centers of this movement was in Long Island, where conservative and libertarian parents joined with liberal and progressive parents to protest the huge amount of testing in local schools, which they thought were making good schools worse and creating near abusive levels of stress for children and families.

As an education activist whose university affiliation appeared to give legitimacy to the protest, I was invited to speak at several rallies sponsored by one of the groups formed in this course of the New York Test Revolt- Parents and Teachers Against the Common Core- and was blown away by how those holding differing views on non-education issues were able to work together and even began liking one another. I made friends with some of the organizers of PTACC and together we formed a Facebook group called "The Badass Parents Association" to capitalize on this energy, and the new "multipartisan approach." In a month, we attracted about 300 members and were really proud of ourselves for drawing in that number of people!

Then, in mid June, one of the people I met through the Badass Parents group, an education activist from Oklahoma named Priscilla Sanstead, suggested we form a Badass Teachers Association Facebook page to help recruit teachers to support parents and students protesting high stakes testing. What happened next absolutely stunned us! We formed the group at 4:30 PM on Friday June 14, and by Saturday night, we had 300 members, as much as the Badass Parents group had acquired in a month and these teachers were coming from all over the country.

In response to this unexpected influx, one of the first people who had joined the group, a brilliant teacher and parent activist named Marla Massey Kilfoyle who had been one of the leaders of the Long Island Test Revolt, suggested we organize a recruiting contest and declare the winner "Badass Teacher of the Month." I set up the contest for between 4 and 5 PM on Sunday June 16 and the results were even more astonishing. More than 1000 people were recruited into the group in that one hour!! Clearly, the name- which implied that teachers throughout the nation were FED UP with how they were being treated by the press, the public, and leaders of both parties- was touching a huge chord  with teachers everywhere. 

Over next week, the group started adding nearly a thousand people a day and .
the three of us at the center of this movement- me, Priscilla and Marla- tried to make sense of what was happening and steer it in a constructive direction. Why was this outpouring of rage and defiance coming now?. The first reason was that all over the country, teachers were under attack- their lessons were being scripted, their careers were being threatened by test based evaluation systems; they were forced to teach in ways that undermined their autonomy and professional integrity. But most important, the large portion of the nation's teachers that had considered themselves Democrats or liberals had become totally disillusioned with the Obama Administration's Education policies, which were as much or more responsible for the policies that were making their lives miserable daily as the Bush Administration had been. They felt totally isolated and alone- without ANY friends in high places- and they were ready to fight back

Our job, we quickly concluded, was to give them an organizational structure capable of doing that. Fortunately, my two co-founders were organizational geniuses, and many of the teachers who joined the group were computer savvy, artistically talented and expert at using social media. While I wrote public pronouncements to explain why the group had grown so fast, my colleagues created a board of administrators to run the organization and set policy, and developed a network of state BAT organizations capable of holding meetings and launching protests on the ground. And we encouraged all our members to use multimedia techniques- especially memes and music videos- to get the group's message across creatively.

Within a month, we had recruited close to 20,000 members and were starting organize actions and warn those most responsible for anti-teacher policies and statements-- Michelle Rhee, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates etc- that there was a new militant teacher group that was coming after them. We were so effective in this- through social media as well as traditional means of protest- that we were publicly endorsed by the nation's most important education historic and critic, Diane Ravitch.

Fast forward to the present. We are now a little over four months old and show no signs of falling apart. We have nearly 31,000 members, launch actions every week, and are planning a Teachers March on Washington on July 28 with plans to have 50,000 angry teachers surrounding the US Department of Education

There is nothing accidental about our growth. America's teachers are tired of being the favorite punching bags of leaders of both political parties and are- through this group- saying "Enough is Enough."

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