THE BLOG
01/11/2011 02:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Educating for Democracy: A Call for Teachers to Save Education

The demonstration last month in support of their teachers by students at Central Falls High School, a school that made national headlines last year when all of its staff was fired with the uninformed approval of President Obama, is a sign, I believe, of a long-simmering reaction of those who have been most adversely affected by the so-called "School Reforms" that began during the Clinton Administration and morphed into "No Child Left Behind" in the Bush years and "Race to the Top" under Obama: the students are finally speaking out. Teachers should be heard from as well but in ways in which they can no longer be ignored.

Most media and political reactions show that any valid criticism by experienced educators of standardized testing, the increase in charter schools, and the loss of classroom autonomy falls on deaf ears. Therefore, I believe that the way teachers should respond who see their profession disparaged and marginalized and their livelihoods threatened by the worst anti-intellectual elements in our society is by "stopping the machine." If teachers could find the conviction and necessary courage to participate in a series of job actions and informational programs (although I realize that many teachers would put their jobs in jeopardy if they did so) perhaps that would get sufficient attention to make the Powers that Be realize that there is a limit to the garbage that is being thrown at them that teachers are willing to accept.

As it is, there are serious shortages right now in California as teachers are "voting with their feet" by leaving that benighted system where recently a teacher committed suicide after having his test scores with his name on them published in the Los Angeles newspapers.

Although from what I can tell, there is little support for what would be equivalent to a work stoppage, there are a number of groups that are planning to have demonstrations against the present situation including a "Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action" on July 30, 2011. Information about the march can be found at: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org. The group headed by Anthony Cody has expressed a number of the demands that include:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities
  • End to over emphasis on high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation
  • Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Another teachers' group opposing the so-called "educational reform" of the present and past administrations is organizing a "Million Teacher March" this year. It can be reached at: https://sites.google.com/site/sosmtm/.

The Des Moines Education Association has been promoting a Professional Educator's Creed to demonstrate teachers' commitment to real education. Their contact link is: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/professional_educators_creed

Among the principal tenets of the creed are that every educator:

  • Actively resist and work to change policies and practices that devalue or harm students, the education profession, or public education.
  • Support and protect the right of every student to a free, quality, public education with meaningful and equitable opportunities to learn.
  • Educate with the understanding that public education is the cornerstone of a free and functioning democratic society.
  • Create caring, supported, and democratic learning communities that ensure the rights of all students are respected, including those who lack the means to make their needs known.
  • Provide an education that strengthens respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings.
  • Collaborate constructively with colleagues to improve the craft of educating and to build the learning communities that benefit the growth and development of all.
  • Collaborate with our school communities and others to inform and shape healthy deliberations about the future of our schools.

Yet another educator who is developing a website that could be used as a clearing house for ideas, strategies and general information that might be disseminated throughout the country is Leonard Isenberg in Los Angeles. His blog can be accessed at http://www.perdaily.com.

I would suggest that these issues be condensed into three concrete demands which, I believe, can help illuminate many of these other concerns:

1. No more hi-stakes standardized testing as the principal form of teacher and student evaluation.
2. Restore teacher classroom autonomy.
3. Let parents' voices be heard.

It took massive demonstrations against the War in Vietnam to turn public opinion against it and countless marches to get the Civil Rights Act passed. These were dealing with national sicknesses that could only be cured through a sustained national response. If a significant number of teachers decided that "enough is enough": that they are sick of high-stakes testing, sick of being blamed for all the problems of a sick society, sick of being publically humiliated by political hacks who wouldn't survive a day in the more troubled schools, sick of the finger-pointing and posturing, and, finally, sick of being expected to work miracles of enlightenment in a culture which seems to ridicule intellect and extol ignorance; if they decided that they would show how sick they really are and demand an end to standardized testing and a return to "classroom autonomy," by refusing to administer standardized tests and those who felt strongly enough organize a National Teach-in, our educational system might get back on track toward achieving the goal professed by all of the "reformers": educational excellence.