Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Eight Years of Education Activism

I am not, by training, an historian of education, or a teacher educator. My degree is in American History, and most of my research has been on African American history, labor history and the history of popular culture. I only began writing about education issues when the community history projects I was working on in nearly 20 Bronx schools were pushed out by a testing mania that swept through the Bloomberg Department of Education in 2007/2008, and when the wonderful teachers I worked with became the subject of a campaign of demonization in the media. These teachers, mostly women, many Black and Latino, quite a few of whom grew up in Bronx neighborhoods, found themselves blamed for every ill that beset the public schools of the Bronx, and by implication, growing inequality in the entire society. I was so enraged by these attacks on Bronx teachers, which were coming from politicians of both parties- with Mayor Bloomberg leading the charge- and a startling array of pundits, that i began speaking out in their defense.
Nothing I have seen in the last eight years suggests that I was wrong in speaking out. It is convenient to blame teachers and public schools for inequality in educational performance, and the failure of our society to overcome vast gaps in income and wealth along racial lines. It is also morally wrong- as is any attempt to find scapegoats for complex problems- and profoundly counterproductive. When you ramp up the stress on teachers by making them a convenient target for public attacks while taking away their autonomy and on the job protections, you remove a precious source of inspiration, guidance and comfort for children. And ironically, the children you hurt the most are those growing up in poverty, who need that guidance and inspiration the most.
It is hard to think of a major leader in American public life who has not, in some manner, contributed to the toxic atmosphere in which the nation's teachers work.
So as much as I would like to return to the research I have devoted my life to, I cannot do so, in good conscience, any time soon.