Out of the Fire into the Frying Pan

Here’s a message responding to the Obama waiver plan, as well as Senator Alexander (R) proposed bill on the same subject—NCLB. I always have an easier time critiquing them—but if I were (absurd) a senator (like Sanders), what might I propose? Ideas, welcome—proposals/ides at the edge of the possible

I am posting this guest column this month in response to the Obama plan. I think its important to read.


Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

(by Alan Young)

Please read the FairTest response to the Obama-Duncan waiver deal, if you have not already.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire it appears. We have few recourses left — one being to influence legislators for a very different ESEA upon reauthorization. If we are not able to influence that in 2013, then I fear we may have fundamentally lost public education in the U.S. for the foreseeable future anyway. The waivers, as you can see, are NOT the answer and not much help. They are based on the same flawed premises of all the current market-based reform ideology. We are really at a place where we could lose democracy in this nation. No one should think that taking this “deal” (as many states, including Kentucky appear poised to do) is a fundamental improvement that helps us escape from the market-based stranglehold of the ends and means of public education. We are at a crossroads. We have to redouble our efforts regarding organizing to influence.

We have to quell the seemingly ubiquitous reach of the market-based reforms that are choking our efforts to create caring, democratic schools (which is what I thought I was coming to help grow in Louisville). We will have to use grassroots means, as well as using mainstream and alternative media at the local, state, national, and international levels, to help focus and sustain attention to the damage of corporate-led reform and the lack of positive democratic education, etc., and its effects on the education and future of our youth and nation. We have to show the power of good, caring and democratic education and authentic assessment can have for our youth. We have to have a powerful offense as well as a defense. I think we have an overwhelming amount of research on our side, but we are not getting the message out deeply, consistently, powerfully, and strategically amidst the slick, well-funded DRONE of market-based reform mantras, to make a dent against it. While we have been growing and improving our coordination among groups (like FairTest, Save Our Schools, National Council of Urban Education Associations, Forum for Education and Democracy, Rethinking Schools, Rouge Forum, Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, Parents United for Responsible Education, within unions and academia, etc.) we must do even better. Too much is at stake. We have to find a way to be a consistent presence in national and local media, mainstream and alternative.

I say all of this because I still think that we need to convene some type of a “national strategy session(s)” — not one aiming at publicity like the worthwhile SOS effort this summer (that may be one strategy that emerges), but to organize ourselves by creating a coordinated infrastructure to influence the public and policymakers and build a backbone for a movement. We need a planning meeting with many key players committed to a democratic vision for public education to organize ourselves to fashion a plan to influence and grow a national and international movement for public education based on democratic vs. market-based reform principles. WE ARE ALL WORKING HARD AND HAVE BEEN DOING GOOD WORK. But we must not only work harder, but smarter and together. We cannot do this separately, with us working mostly in isolation. We must find the means to convene to create a comprehensive, focused plan, with strategies (grassroots organizing, policy influence, academia, media campaign, coalition building, etc.), responsibilities, and a sustaining infrastructure to have a chance against the privatized and co-opted powers that be. Surely we can find a way to get this off the ground. And yes, I know, we will need to address the tough question of just how you fund an ongoing movement without changing its essence. But if we do not even convene a meeting to discuss the possibilities, find our commonalities and strengths, of how to move forward in a coordinated, strategic way, do we really think we have a chance against the domination of corporate-led reform? Yes, we need to continue to work hard and play to people’s strengths. But we also have to work smart by working better together . . . and soon.

Of course, there is no guarantee that all this will be enough or be successful. We are up against powerful forces who have been working to co-opt, privatize, and change public education fundamentally for years. But the market-based approach is based on “psychometric hocus pocus.” It is a “house of cards,” “a house built on sand,” and a “ruse” — so there IS a way for it to be challenged by speaking truth to power in a sustained, systemic, and strategic fashion. This a a democratic and human rights movement we are a part of. We just have to get better at actualizing it! And what choice do we have? We may not succeed, but it is clear to me that if we do not try to create a viable, sustained, coordinated, and growingly impactful counter-movement bubbling up all over this country, we are all but guaranteed that public education as the cornerstone for democracy is not long lived in the U.S. anyway.

The clock is ticking, folks. This is it. If not us, who? If not now, when?

Alan Young
(now in Louisville, KY)

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