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Occupy Our Schools

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Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones? The sea change that is Occupy Wall Street does not have to do with the list of demands. It does not have to do with Obama's election chances. In a perfect example of conflicting narratives, the cultural gatekeepers find it impossible to understand something that is right in front of their faces.

Occupy Wall Street is action. We have had talk, talk, talk for years, decades even. The right -- the think tanks, big media outlets, politicians, foundations -- thunders its dogma on a regular basis. The left - community organizers, unions, educators, activists -- refute their arguments, though with a much smaller voice and very few dollars. But it has all just been a conversation.

Now action obliterates the deadlock. Whatever we have been waiting for -- Obama, common sense, karma -- we realized it was never coming to help us and it is time for action. Action creates facts, and facts are essential -- they create possibilities and new words, fresh vocabularies. The silenced majority, the 99%, has finally been pushed so far that it is pushing back. Every movement is improbable until it happens; after the fact it so clearly was inevitable.

The bankers intone, "These people don't understand the work we do." The right wing bloggers ask: "Are they going to take the money away from the wealthy?" The talking heads warn, "Do they have any direction?" The answer, in brief, is we do, we will, and we have. We do understand what bankers and investors do: they run a three-card-Monte game where only they can see under the cards. They don't add wealth to the economy, that's done by people who go to work all over the world. They simply siphon it out. And yes we are coming to take the money from the wealthy. These people are not job creators. They are parasites who have stolen from those who actually create the wealth. And finally, we have a direction. It's . . . oh, just watch and see.

The same type of bold action could be applied to schools. The privatizers, those who would strip down our schools to being test-prep factories training only for compliance and passivity, have made their case with all the volume that billions of dollars can buy. The Broad Foundation trains corporate executives with no educational experience to be school superintendents while the Wallmart Foundation pours millions into charters and voucher projects and the Gates Foundation is pumping up teacher evaluation schemes (based on student test scores). The film Waiting for Superman articulates a demand for the destruction of teacher's unions and the creation of privately operated schools that take public money. Secretary of Education Duncan calls for a "Race to the Top," pitting student against student, teacher against teacher, school against school, and state against state in a Social Darwinist fantasy game worthy of Ayn Rand.

And of course we, educators and community members and students, patiently and thoroughly counter and disprove their arguments. Their data are false, from claims about charter success to attacks on teachers. Their goals are sinister, cloaked in a thinly disguised rhetoric of equity. Read Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Debbie Meier, Monty Neill, Diane Ravitch, Bill Ayers, Kris Gutierrez, Anthony Cody. The list goes on and on.

But so far it has only been a conversation. It does not matter if we defeat their arguments over and over. They still have the purse strings, the foundations, and the big megaphone. The time has come for action. Take over these schools. Occupy them. Sit in. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We built these schools with our taxes, our labor, our commitment to students and communities. They are not just playthings for overfed business dilettantes. Instead of taking marching orders from Wall Street, we need to take these schools and make them institutions of liberation.

With students, community members, and teachers in these buildings, imagine the possibilities. Poetry workshop in one room; free clinic in another; science lab in a third. Food production. Critical pedagogy class. Strategy meetings. A kind of education that embraces deep meaning, knowledge for people's needs, and participatory democracy. Watch these young people step up. In a liberated space, the bored and resistant students in the back of the room will be transformed. You will see them taking responsibility for their education, demonstrate their desire for ethical action, for sacrifice for the common good, and for a future they can believe in.

Can we do this? At one site? At a hundred? You can be certain that this is a discussion popping up all over the country. This is the kind of action that would trump the endless, and ultimately losing, debate we have been locked in over the past years. We can't talk our way out of the problems in education. But we can act, together, because another world is possible.