Friday, May 31, 2013

Can We Overcome Political Divisions in Fighting Testing and Common Core?

There has been a lot of very bitter debate in the last 24 hours, on some facebook pages, about whether progressives should work with conservatives in resistance to the Common Core Standards and excessive testing in the public schools, and vice versa. In the interests of clarity, and perhaps unity, let me make my own position on these issues clear.

I became active on education issues because I saw teachers and teachers unions under attack and gradually widened my focus because I saw the same forces demonizing teachers trying to shove high stakes tests into the public schools that would transform them into centers of child abuse. The more I looked into this, the more I saw the cause to be a small number of extremely powerful corporations and individuals who over the past thirty years had monopolized an extraordinary portion of the nation's wealth and were able to capture the leadership of both political parties. I also saw that concentration of wealth, and corruption of the political process, as leading to a steady erosion of civil liberties and the creation of a police surveillance state. Because of this, I was very open to the prospect of conservatives and libertarians fighting against excessive testing of the public schools because what I saw happening was creating an stifling atmosphere of regimentation and control and riding roughshod over the rights of students, teachers and parents. People joining that fight because of fear of centralized government authority had to join together with people fighting excessive corporate power for this movement to gain traction, given the money and power that the Testing/Common Core Juggernaut can command, And that is why I was so excited about the atmosphere of last night’s event in New Hyde Park and the broad based coalition in the group Parents and Core Teachers Against the Common Core

But everyone involved, to keep this going, has to focus on sustaining it’s character as a big tent movement which includes people on many portions of the political spectrum For me, that means a few things. First of all, in defending students and families, we have to be careful not to attack teachers and teachers unions. I started as defender of teachers and while I am extremely critical of leadership of the major teachers unions, I think the unions themselves are an important counterweight to the illegitimate and uncontrolled power of large corporations. Secondly, while I support people who home school, I am against school vouchers and attempts to privatize the public school system. This movement will thrive if it defends local control of public schools and parent rights within that system, it will fall apart tomorrow if it supports vouchers and privatization. Third, we should not try to run people out of the movement who disagree with us

This big tent philosophy has always been central to my role as an educator. As a professor, I always make my views clear, but am sure to tell students I am not trying to "convert" them to my point of view, but make them more informed in defending their own. This also effects how I operate as a political organizer. I have major disagreements with people on Freedomworks on questions of vouchers and privatization, but also have a good friend on Freedomworks with whom I find common ground on drug policy, civil liberties and US intervention abroad. So we agree to disagree on education while we try to work together on the other issues. Here, our issue is defending our children and our public schools. We have to agree to disagree about the other things, or our schools and children will become a nightmare of testing surveillance and top down control. Can we be disciplined enough to do that. I certainly hope so

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