Organizing and Action

I have created (see link at here chart3 and at end of blog) a chart that may help folks in thinking through how to organize effective resistance to ed reform and crafting meaningful and effective alternatives to current education policies. My motivation to create this came from my own frustrations with a few things:

1) Where to begin? Sometimes parents, teachers and other community members will stop before they even get started because the whole mess just feels so damn overwhelming!

2) To better understand how we are all connected. Its a Catch 22 really. Politicians and legislators are the ones with the power to write bills that end bad policy and initiate good ones. But politicians are motivated by voters. Parents, teachers and community members must put weight on politicians to get them to do anything! Most of them are either woefully uninformed or bought out by corporate interests. So they need educating and serious pressure from us, and;

3) Focusing not only on what we are against but what we are FOR. Effective strategy includes a vision of what we want! And taking steps to manifest it.

The chart itself is rather simple. Here are some suggestions for things to insert into the chart (or to consider):

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? (sung to a jaunty tune):  Now, what “we” want depends on the “we.” Generally speaking its the real stakeholders: Children in public schools, parents, and members of the local communities most affected by the changes to their public school systems. For example, in your state or district are parents, teachers and communities of color being silenced, sold out, or colonized? (note: this is most likely “yes” where ever you throw a dart at the US map…) Who must have a voice and input for change to be meaningful and effective? Do you have a strong teachers union? Parent organizations? Involvement from social organizations or clubs?

What organizing “looks” like is a local issue. For some communities the greatest concern right now might be school closures. For others it might be intrusion of online edu-tech companies inserting themselves in the public system. We are, all of us, affected in some way by all these things…but each community must focus on the specific battles it wishes to fight. Be specific and take concrete actions, issue by issue. One month you might focus on testing refusal and a few months later work on legislation that demands state tax payer dollars in public ed NOT go to testing but to some other school-based need like hiring more teachers, improving infrastructure, or preserving the school library.

Community organizing does not only include parents and teachers, but other groups/issues within the community. Again, advocacy and organizing directly bubble up from the needs of that community. It will most likely be slightly different in every location. But beyond our school walls, children in many rural and urban communities are affected by the effects of poverty. Therefore, effective education change must include members of social, medical, and business communities that could help create wrap around services and other needs.

Also locate one or more individuals who have necessary areas of expertise, time, or connections. You need somone who can negotiate legislative language and time to attend sessions. You need folks informed about corporate interests and can “dig” for non-transparent associations (i.e any of the 50Can groups disguised as grass roots weeding their way into your school? How can you find out?).  You need folks who can negotiate the ins and out of policies and practices of school boards, unions, and other influential organizations. And these folks need to coordinate THEIR efforts for maximun effect.

Where are You At? Different communities are in different phases of education reform and their resistance to it. Some communities are far more versed in what’s happening than others. Phillie has been levelled by charter schools, but where I live in Baltimore they’re just getting warmed up. Determine what “stage” your district or state is at. Do you need to focus on educating others by holding information sessions (step 1 in the chart)? Having an informed community is necessary before any solid actions can take place. People need to understand why they are fighting against and what they are fighting for. If your community is clear about both, then organizing revolves around steps 2-3 in the chart.

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Finally, organizing and action must be grounded in facts. The mainstream media and reformers can have a field day alluding to resistance as little more than “pissed off White soccer moms” or “tin foil hat” wearing fringe groups. We can easily be discredited by leading with assumptions or misinformation…or hijacked (manipulated) by ideological or political motives of others without realizing it. Predatory ed reform is not recent, nor conjured by a single political ideology. It’s roots goes back decades, and spans across the political aisles.

When engaging in steps 1-3 (on the chart chart3) and when working with legislators, make sure you have groups or individuals who have a solid working knowledge of the research and the facts, and lead with information over emotion or supposition. Ending bad policy must be led by proof. For example, when fighting charter school colonization, use data such as the UCLA study that documented that 37% of charter schools underperform their public school counterparts, and that charter school retention rates are a farce.

There are scores of educational researchers in higher education dedicated to changing this corporate-run landscape of education. Find us! Please! We are here and ready to help if anyone needs assistance with “academic language” or research to support your initiatives. Solutions must be grounded in evidence as well. Want more art in your child’s curriculum and less testing? Bring the studies that show how PE and music improve reading skills, and increase graduation rates. Demonstrate how nutrition, hands-on activities and after-school programs reduce behavioral concerns.

Know Where the Power Lies: Know who has the power to influence what. It does not all come down to legislation of course.  Remember, while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the power of Emperor Bill Gates and a giant octopus of federal “mandates”…most school funding comes from the state and local level. Most decisions to push back against federal mandates must come from local and state voices. Using research to publicly CALL OUT local politicians and adminsitrators who have sold out to corporate or political interests. Shine a light on corruption.

So we have more power than we realize. And the most powerful changes come from strong and coordinated actions by local communities (see Chicago, New York, and Seattle as a few examples for proof it’s possible). Some changes can happen by appealing to your school board. Some issues might begin more closely with a PTA or school administrator. Identify what changes you wish to see, and then determine who is the group or person who can most likely effect that change, and which individuals or groups can most likely help.

Don’t Get Bogged Down: It’s easy to get lost in the mire: The mire of “across the aisles” collaborations (when can they work and when they can’t), the mire of a sense of powerlessness (what can I do as one person?), the mire of rapid fire changes cloaked in an opacity so thick that we don’t know what coming until we’ve been run over by it, the mire of distrust, infighting, and distractions (human vices we all possess of fear and ego…will…never..go…away), better to just ignore them. Be forgiving in spirit, open in mind, and humble in heart. Remember who the enemy is…and is not. We need to focus, to organize (however that is determined by individual communities), and we need…to…act.

A final excellent suggestion offered by Michelle Gunderson, “We also need to define our wins – not by their standards.” In other words, as Tim Slekar says, “We OWN the narrative now.”

Now. Each day is a day we can ALL do SOMETHING.

Hope this chart is helpful to you all. Use if for strategy, communication, and action.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

7 thoughts on “Organizing and Action

  1. Reblogged this on readingdoc and commented:
    Here is a blueprint for education activists that gets us beyond just being against Common Core. From a personal standpoint, I really liked this quote: “There are scores of educational researchers in higher education dedicated to changing this corporate-run landscape of education. Find us! Please! We are here and ready to help if anyone needs assistance with “academic language” or research to support your initiatives.”

  2. Douglas County, Colorado denizen here, one of many concerned residents fighting individually and in groups the aggressive expansion of the for profit Deformer experiment on middle class suburban schools.

    (see in particular and “Speak for DCSD on Facebook)

    Great, inspirational, and most importantly, practical, piece. In particular, I couldn’t agree more with this: “Solutions must be grounded in evidence.”

    Regarding this:

    “There are scores of educational researchers in higher education dedicated to changing this corporate-run landscape of education. Find us! Please! We are here and ready to help if anyone needs assistance with “academic language” or research to support your initiatives.”

    Although passion to stop this nightmare is not in short supply – in DougCo and surrounding communities also fighting the fight – expertise, and well executed, well organized, properly sourced research too often is. On the other hand, “evidence” as spun by the Deformers and their well-paid propagandists, too often is not.

    Can you offer up any further details regarding these “scores of educational researchers”?

    Thank you.

    1. Sheldon–are you looking for a list of folks to contact in higher ed whose research would be helpful to you? or were you seeking more of an explanation of ewhat i meant? happy to provide either

  3. Thanks for your follow-up!

    Although many of the more seasoned members of the “deforminator” (working against the corporate reformers) groups I’m associated with are quite well informed generally, and I’m heartened to see what appears to be a nascent awareness of the need to engage with the opposition in fairly concrete ways on fairly specific, concrete issues, your counsel that “organizing and action must be grounded in facts” is well taken.

    Especially in order to counter the relentless – and too often successful – attempts by these people to discredit and de-legitimize *their opposition.

    Towit – last autumn one well known uber-conservative radio and newspaper commentator/shill for the Deformers (among other IMHO far-right “causes”), one Mr. Mike Rosen, arrogantly dismissed Douglas County parents and community members who have voiced reform related concerns as “well intentioned, but politically naive soccer moms who suffer from ‘teacher’s pet’ syndrome”.

    One seriously wants to assertively and immediately (repeat as needed) smack this kind of tactic down with The Facts.

    Sorry for the tangent. One’s blood tends sometimes to boil. 🙂

    I saw in the “scores of educational researchers” a potential opportunity to grow our knowledge and human-resource base a bit – so, yes, in conjunction with other resources local folks are developing, if you have anything readily at hand, a “list of folks to contact in higher ed whose research would be helpful” would indeed be err – helpful!

    (perhaps also a nice “appendix” sort of item for use by others in this blog as well)


    (and, btw, let me know if I can provide any info re. what’s going on in DougCo)

  4. Reblogged this on National Mobilization For Equity and commented:
    Questions about our (NME’s) purpose and how differentiated from that of other, seemingly similar groups came up at our recent teleconference, and bear reflecting on, individually and as a group (or coalition). From the first question onward, this post seems relevant to both purpose and reflections on it.

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