Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why Mass Protest and Test Resistance Must Supplement Election Work In Defending Public Education

The more I speak to high level school administrators and public officials, the more I am convinced that the trend toward greater testing of students, and greater scripting and micromanagement of teachers, including use of tests in teacher evaluation, can only be reversed if there is massive protest in the society on a wide range of issues, as well as a huge escalation of Test Resistance by parents, students and teachers. The momentum of current education policies is enormous, reinforced by a narrative of past failure which suggests that any relaxation of current policies will give aid and comfort to bad teachers and hurt the most vulnerable students. Their management philosophy- one now common in all spheres of public life- is that most employees will not perform unless they fear for their jobs, are given performance goals based on hard data and put under constant surveillance. I have seen this management philosophy in action in police departments, state departments of probation, and large sections of private industry, making jobs that once gave people some autonomy rigid and distasteful and also leading to poor qualities of service.

In education, it has been particularly catastrophic, leading to the beating down and forced retirement of some of our best teachers and the steady squeezing of joy out of our classrooms. Children are being bored and humiliated and deprived of opportunities for self expression by the grim atmosphere in our schools. But because so many people in public life, from boards of education, to legislatures, believe current strategies are the only way to yield high performance, they can't be stopped by incremental protest. Elections are important, but if not accompanied by massive protest and resistance, they will not bring the relief our teachers and students desperately need. The battle has to be in the streets as well as the polls, and use every innovative technique at our disposal to sway public opinion. If our protest does not reach Sixties proportions, and "doesn't bring the machine to a halt" it quite simply won't work.

The breaking of the teachers contract by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission is just the latest, and most outrageous example of what Education Policy Makers will do if they don't fear massive disruption

No Justice! No Peace!