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Shaun Johnson

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Occupying the Department of Education

Posted: 03/25/2012 6:39 pm

Between March 30 and April 2 of 2012, public school advocates will arrive in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Education on Maryland Avenue to make a clarion call in opposition to test-driven and data-mad education reforms. The event will include four days worth of teach-ins, marches, a documentary screening, and a Sunday evening reception.

This is not a political occupation in the sense of what we've come to know in the last several months. In fact, United Opt Out National, the organization leading the event without any sponsorship of any kind, is behaving in a manner becoming of many educators. Permits and permissions have been secured, a detailed schedule is available, and everything within the organizers' control is, well, organized.

From my perspective, the myriad occupy movements operate based on a "nuisance of presence." That is, congregate in largely public and visible locations for extended periods of time to make a temporary home. The constant presence is by itself a form of protest, notwithstanding the additional marches, conversations, and visual representations that fit a more conventional view of protest movements.

Occupying the Department of Education on March 30 is an entirely legal occupation. It is a 96-hour congregation and discussion of like-minded educators, students, and parents who are resisting the prominence of high-stakes standardized testing, railing against attempts made by ALEC and other privately funded organizations to draft model legislation to ultimately privatize public schools, and to drown out the voices of charlatans and pundits who lack the credibility to comment on education.

So what is this about an occupation then? Well, we can argue all things occupy, but I'll let that debate play out in the comments. There are strong positions for and against the movement. There's also this huge abyss in the middle populated by folks who just don't care either way. We don't hear too much from them, probably because they don't make good media. I know a lot of people who never utter any derivation of the word "occupy" unless it refers to a bathroom, and that's all right with me.

The Occupy the DOE in Washington, DC on March 30 may be an "occupy" event in name only. That is, the proper authorities approved the permits. No one's sleeping in a tent. No one is unwelcome. But it is turning various sites at and around the DOE into temporary outdoor classrooms.

Alternative to an ongoing physical presence, United Opt Out National will temporarily "occupy" the conversation on education reform, demanding that educators, parents, and students, those who actually know about curriculum and teaching, receive an equal voice. As it currently stands, it is only those with money and political influence who make the key decisions regarding education reform and policy.

It has been the contention of United Opt Out all along that a powerful weapon against corporatized reforms is non-compliance with the current testing regime. It's that simple: Nothing needs to be done other than refusing to do something. Without the highly coveted quantitative information from which to discipline and punish students and their teachers, perhaps then those not part of the large foundations will get someone's attention.

 

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