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EduSanity: Is It Time For a Holding Pattern?

Public education is under attack from just about every possible angle as we enter the 2013-2014 school year. Many think its days are numbered, but I happen to side with the others who believe that public education is a civil rights issue because without it, our democracy and country are lost or worse. It must be saved.

Today, corporate models of reform (sic)—ones that love to ignore the underlying social problems of our country and stand to exacerbate them—will only listen to one form of protest—here’s a hint: $. At present, the rich are getting richer each day in our country, parlaying wealth into more and more while the middle class withers like August sunflowers; suffering is the new norm. How is it possible that the Gates Foundation collaborated with the education system to the tune of creating national standards, national tests, and national curricula that stand to net Microsoft enormous profits? I happen to believe that the education of our CHILDREN should not be for sale to corporations, however well-meaning they are.

Is that preposterous?

Now famously, the airline industry faced sweeping sequestration cuts in the spring of 2013, ones that were simultaneously enacted against such noble and important functions as early childhood education. Instead of accepting their bi-partisan levied fate, air traffic controllers took charge, slowed down, and hit America right where it counted—the wallet.

Airport Traffic JamAs businesspeople from all over the world sat helpless in airports, missing meetings, deadlines, and their families, the economy gasped just long enough for the geniuses in Washington D.C. to come to the rescue and restore funding to the nations air traffic controllers. Despite the best efforts and threats of the government, sequestration cuts were reversible in this case. The holding pattern worked.

I’m not here to suggest or organize a nationwide strike, occupy, walkout or other form of non-violent protest, though I’ve been encouraged by the work of Diane Ravitch, the Bad Ass Teacher Association, and the efforts in Seattle to stop senseless testing; that said, I’ve about had it with the ignorance displayed by policy makers and other reformers (sic) who constantly mettle with education despite apparently knowing little about it, a point that in addition to Dr. Thomas’ post, Tienken & Orlich (2013) detail well in the first two chapters of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies that we read and discussed in class on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, these times call for extreme measures, perhaps one that follows an already successful example. It took my friend Alan 17 hours to get from San Antonio to Los Angeles…on a plane!

I wonder aloud what would happen if on Tuesday, October 1st (or some other randomly selected day) and until demands are met (whatever they are), every single teacher stayed home. Of course, students would have to stay home too, grinding the economic engine of the great United States of America to a screeching, jarring halt of which the air traffic controllers could never have imagined. The pain and suffering this would cause would cut across all classes and races, of course, as many of the absurd education policies do, impacting those with fewer resources most dramatically. For that reason alone, we absolutely shouldn’t do this, but what will it take to get America to pay attention?

Whatever the case and however it is delivered, the country is overdue for a major wakeup call when it comes to how we think about education. Teachers are being discounted and disrespected society-wide. The purpose of education has become solely “for profit,” or as Giroux (2012) offers, to get a “McJob.” The education agenda, if one exists, is most accurately described as apocalyptic, advancing unsupported deforms like merit pay, tying teacher development to teacher evaluation, propagating charter schools and vouchers, and labeling schools as failing to the point they are closed.

I believe in America and I believe if America isn’t great enough to about-face, and pour its energy and funding into saving our public schools, we are in serious jeopardy.

Here are a few of the demands I’d make, feel free to add yours in the Twitterverse or comment section below.

1)   By the 2014-15 school year, close all charter schools. In their basic idea, I support them but they are only around today in competition with public schools, a culture of competition furthered by the corporate, business models of school, one sure to fail our country.

2)   Cease all voucher programs immediately. Privatizing education–the foundation of our democracy–isn’t acceptable.

3)   Restore job protection rights in each state for teachers. We must trust teachers if we are to improve our country’s education system.

4)   Eliminate school choice options that essentially allow the schools to be re-segregated by race and/or class. Schools are more segregated today since Brown v. Board and that a disgusting and unfortunate reality.

5)   Redefine the purpose of education as something other than, “so someone can get a job and make lots of money.” See Mehta’s work on this.

6)   Double the salary of starting pay for teachers in 5 years. Because if we are serious about attracting the top third of graduates from our country, we are going to have to pay for it.

7)   Disband PARCC and Smarter Balance, returning any money left to the Gates Foundation with a little ribbon on it. Great piece about this posted yesterday over at the WaPo.

Granted, these specific conditions might not be met and that is fine, but what is it going to take to for me to read education related articles in the morning and NOT think I’m on set at theatre of the absurd? For that, we can’t afford to wait.

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Christian Z. Goering

Chris Goering is an Associate Professor of Secondary English Education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He received his Ph.D. (2007) and M.Ed. in Cu...