I was invited by Kevin Zeese to contribute something to Popular Resistance a while back, to contribute a call for an action in response to current education reform policies, including but not limited to, any piece of fecal detritus spewed by Betsy Devos and company.
I struggled to formulate a response to that request mostly because my feelings were two-fold: 1) I couldn’t generate any ideas not already being developed by others (i.e. call your state legislator, sign XYZ petition, speak up at PTA meetings etc etc…) and 2) I wasn’t sure where I stood in relationship to ESSA.
Generally speaking, I am opposed to supporting ESSA because of the devil in the details (the ways in which it is opening the flood gates for private interests in the form of vouchers, charters and online providers). And yet, as Trump and the clown car call for the dismantling of the US Department of Education and eliminating federal mandates, I am instinctively opposed to that too- much in the way one might instinctively oppose having a nail driven into their eye (the way I feel about anything attached to Trump’s name or policies). Besides, lets face it: Looking back historically, our track record for actually putting our democratic money where our mouth is, is less than stellar. Between high stakes testing and school to prison pipelines, we have done little in our policies to genuinely support disenfranchised youth and communities. So what are we hanging on to? And, if we let go of what we have, what will be in store for us? And who will decide?
So…. to be, or not to be? That is the question. Call for actions to support ESSA? Or to not support ESSA? That is the question. The answer is that it doesn’t matter. Why? Because RIGHT NOW, either road leads to the same ends, paved by the same people: privatization, profit and corporate ownership of students.
The policy makers that came before Devos (such as Arne Duncan and co.) might not have been so (openly) dim witted as to call for guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears. But education policies under Obama, and Bush before him, and Clinton before him all the way back to Reagan….all have been leading to the same neoliberal agenda. ESSA, as written and supported by Lamar Alexander will lead toward the same outcome that we would arrive it if we oppose or eliminate ESSA (that is, when the alternatives to ESSA are driven by the same policy makers that have been driving education agenda for thirty years).
What haven’t we tried? Rather than putting energy toward choosing sides drawn for us by the same corporate reformers who have been driving the bus for decades, and either being PRO ESSA or opposed to EESA, we should put our energy toward something we haven’t tried yet. DEMANDING, and TAKING DIRECT ACTION TOWARD enacting a system of policies crafted by us: Educators, parents, students and communities, especially and most necessarily, by and with those teachers, parents and students in communities that have been historically marginalized (unfunded and rendered invisible). Why don’t we stop focusing on whether or not to support policies crafted by others (the corporate and political elite), and begin really building from the ground up the demand for an agenda made by the people who live that agenda every day? Our energies and focus of strategic actions need to be redirected.
Why not tell our state and local representatives, union leadership, and boards of education: “Either you write policies that include OUR agenda, or WE-WILL-NOT-VOTE-FOR-YOU.”
It’s not like we haven’t crafted suggestions for system of policies or demands that we COULD use a starting outline. It not like we DON’T have alternatives. We DO. Numerous groups over many years have been advocated for them:
SOS demands for public education in 2012
BATS demands for public education
And most importantly: The National Student Bill of Rights
I think we’ve got a good start just with these alone. I am sure there are more. They’re all generally demanding the same things, since basic human rights for students and communities are the basic undercurrent of each of them. Within these organizations and other such as the teachers unions who have similar demands (really, rhetoric since they lack actionable substance) there are thousands of people who, if we redirected our focus toward OUR demands and less on debating about their offers, we could make SUBSTANTIAL and SYSTEMIC changes.
I know the first response of my readers might be “That is just impossible.” Maybe. But it’s becoming increasingly evident that the only alternative to the impossible now is the unimaginable. If we continue on this current course of asking “Mother May I” and buying the solutions sold to us by the same folks who created the problem, we will wind up with the unimaginable.
I would rather fight for the impossible then accept the unimaginable. What about you?