I have been enraged by what has been happening to teachers and public education for at least 7 years. My involvement began in 2007 with school grading and school closings in the Bronx, which drove the history projects I was doing out of the public schools, and victimized many of the great teachers I had worked with. It built up steam when Barack Obama and Arne Duncan unleashed Race to the Top which blamed teachers for the country’s education deficits and required that teachers be rated on the basis of student test scores
I started writing and speaking about what was happening and got a modest response from teachers and education activists around the country. I spoke at several rallies in Washington, helped found the Dump Duncan group on Facebook, participated in several unsuccessful demonstrations against school closings in NY and found my frustration building. I became a loose cannon, exploding in rage at dinner parties and family gatherings when anyone attacked teachers, losing many friends in the process. Everyone I thought I was a crazy man when I attacked what Michael Bloomberg was doing in NYC and Barack Obama was doing throughout the US was a deadly blow to Democracy and Free Speech as well as Public Education
Then came the great NY Test Revolt of the Spring of 2013. Parents up in arms about Common Core aligned tests, mostly in suburbs and rural area, began opting out their children in unprecedented numbers. I was invited to speak in several Long Island communities and in the process met some amazing parents and teachers who were as alarmed about what was happening in education policy as I was. One of these was a parent activist from Oklahoma named Priscilla Sanstead; another was a teacher and parent from Long Island named Marla Kilfoyle. Even though I only knew them from email and Facebook, I found them to be kindred spirits, funny, creative, feisty, ready to fight back against the Billionaire Privatizers and their supporters in both parties using social media as well as more traditional protest methods
Then one day, when Priscilla and I were comparing notes, we decided, as an experiment to create a Facebook group called“The Badass Teachers Association.” We had been working together on an innovative site called “ The Badass Parents Association” which had amassed a nice following in a few months and thought we might be able to attract a few hundred teachers who were as angry as we were about the testing and scripting and demonization of teachers in America’s public schools
What happened next took us totally by surprise and changed the course of American education history. Priscilla launched the page on June 14, 2013 at4:30 PM and we invited several people around the country we had worked with to join, one of whom was Marla. By Sunday night June 16, in part attracted by a recruiting contest Marla had started, we had nearly 2,000 people in the group. No one had ever seen anything like it. Teachers all over the US were pouring into a group with a name that you could not easily mention in polite company, that seemed- at least to some-impertinent and unprofessional, and that connoted total frustration with normal paths of protest for an aggrieved group.
I was utterly stunned by this phenomenon. I had never been part of any organization that had grown this fast, much less an organization that had been started with such low expectations. But when I thought about what was going on, I was deeply moved by what was happening. Clearly, I was not alone in my rage! All over the country, teachers were totally fed up with being the scapegoat for failed social policies and the punching bag for political leaders, media pundits and everyone trying to shape education policy. They were, like me, ready to be up front, in your face and outrageous, demanding that teachers have a place at the table or they would turn over the table!
What I felt that weekend is was relief,gratitude, and determination. I was no longer alone. I was part of an army of teachers ready to fight back even if their colleagues, friends, relatives and union leaders thought they were crazy. I decided, along with Priscilla and Marla, to put everything I had into this movement to build it, nurture it and help it grow, not only because the country needed it, but because we all needed it!
Every day since—and it is a year now-- has been filled with purpose, determination, but above all with LOVE. I have met so many great teachers and activists around the country through BATS whose courage and creativity and fighting spirit inspires me every day. And while my colleagues, relatives and what remain of my old friends still think I am crazy, they look at me with a new respect because I am part of a powerful national movement of teachers who will not lett heir voice be smothered and ignored.
BATS and the people in it have given me purpose, given me solidarity , and given me hope.
Together, we go forward toward a better day
Happy Birthday BATS!!!