Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Current Protests May Spread to Schools and Force Officials to Cut Back on Testing

The current protests against the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, show no signs of dying down. Based on what I am seeing in New York City, we can not only expect protests that will block bridges, highways, streets and tunnels, but are likely to disrupt Christmas shopping. These protests have already dwarfed, in size and militancy, those launched by the Occupy movement and are far more diverse in race and class. But most importantly, these protests are drawing in large numbers of high school and even middle school students. A whole generation of students whose main experience in schools has been relentless testing and zero tolerance disciplinary policy policies have had the heady experience of taking over streets and stores and subways and disrupting the activities of entire downtown business districts. Never in their lives have they experienced anything like this sense of collective power, and those who think it will stop with protests against policing are operating with tunnel vision.
As someone who was politicized by civil rights protests in the 60's and ended up participating in building take overs at my own university, I know from experience how protest can become "contagious" and that the sense of power students derive from protesting outside of school can easily translate into protests at schools
We are likely to see this happen, in high schools and even middle schools throughout the country next spring
Remember the old song from World War I "How can you keep them down on the farm when they've seen Paree?"
There are tens of thousands of high school students around the country who have experienced the feeling of power that comes from collective action.
Having had that experience, can we then expect them to go through metal detectors and sit through one boring class after another to prepare for the endless round of tests officials have imposed on them. Many high school students, especially those in inner city, working class and lower middle class communities now HATE going to school, especially since the things they love, arts and sports, have been cut back to make room for tests. That coupled with the increasing prevalence of metal detectors and arrests for minor disciplinary infractions have created a simmering anger that has mainly taken the form of individual explosions. What if that rage was channeled into collective protests such as strikes and walkouts? Not an impossible experience
Especially since the rewards of going to school are not all that great
What is the light of the end of the tunnel for students who fight through the boredom and graduate from high school ?
If they go directly into the job market, they face minimum wage jobs with the same "zero tolerance" discipline they experience in their schools
If they go on to college, the face the prospect of accumulating huge student debt and entering the job market where they are going to have to compete for a dwindling number of jobs with decent salaries and benefits.
Put all of this together- the power students now feel, the boring and humiliating experiences they have in school, and the grim prospects they face in the job market and you have the perfect scenario for a massive student uprising. An uprising that may become so long lasting and strong that it will force officials to do something they never imagined-- cutting back on testing and making high schools a place where students actually want to attend, filled with experiences that will give them the sense of power and agency they right now are finding in the protests sweeping the country


Unknown said...

How wonderful. It is so energizing to see the youth getting evolved. What I want to know is why the function of high school and the opportunity to get teens prepared for college is being lost, and has been since separate but equal and the whole "No child left behind", rhetoric. I want to see these kids change the world!

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