"Fella gets use' to a place, it's hard to go," said Casy. "Fella gets use' to a way of thinkin' it's hard to leave."
Yesterday while in New York City having lunch with GARN Press Publisher Denny Taylor and my colleague John Foshay. We were discussing the possibility of a new book "Interviews with a radical educator." A coauthored book. John and I had something simple planned. A simple Walking Man story kind of thing, but Denny pushed us, challenged us, and right from the start the concept grew into something far more powerful, far more transformative, and far more radical. She was taking me outside my "Happy Warrior" box. She wanted something larger than than one man walking for change.
First she said I know you Jesse, and if this is a story about you then why a second author. Just being the Devil's Advocate she said. Why a second author again? Well this is a book I have been planning for 5 years, and every time I start writing. It sounds like a journey into vanity. A me-me kind of story that discusses I did this, I did that and do all these other things. The purpose of a second author and using an interview format is to put a " What If, so what, who cares, and isn't this bigger than one man walking Jesse frame around my activism.
Who is John Foshay? He helped planned the logistics of both walks, we are TEDxCCSU co-hosts, and we have written together professionally, and have been collaborating on exciting school based education projects for nearly two decades. No educator knows my work more than John Foshay, and no educator questions my work more than Dr. Foshay. He is sort of that devil and angel character sitting on my shoulder. A sounding board for my conscious awareness. This book needs a "What if, who cares, and where are you going voice. That voice is going to be Dr. John Foshay.
Second Denny challenged the purpose of such a book. What do you want people to take away from it in the end? What exactly is your message really? Tell everyone to start walking?
Denny I want to write the most radical call to occupy our public schools ever written. That is when the conversation got deep, this is where the simple walking man story grew into a transformative conversations bigger than one-man walking.
Denny asked are you prepared prepared to challenge the whole purpose of public education in America?
Yes, I am. The first public schools lie was Horace Mann's 1848 " Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral nature as to make men disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow-men. This idea pertains to another of its attributes. But I mean that it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich: it prevents being poor." Horace never insisted on equity, he never insisted on justice. No his public school vision was a compromise that promised the wealthy, the powerful and the connected that public schools would prepared workers for the Industrial Revolution. It was never a democratic revolution. It was never a social revolution. Right in the quote the piece everyone leaves off " I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral nature as to make men disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow-men." In others this will not be about elevating citizens to abhor the oppression of their fellow man. For Horace Mann the purpose of public schools was: " ...better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich: it prevents being poor." From the start our public schools were planned to be places to disarm the poor of any hostility towards the rich, the powerful and the connected. So yes Denny I plan on challenging the very purpose of public education in America. The plan is a radical call to occupy public education in every nook and granny in America.
Denny asked what about the teacher unions? Where are they in all of this? Do you believe they could end education reform polices that are demoralizing and dehumanizing their profession.? In England this year the government called for privatizing all the public schools. Their teachers unions rallied and ended the notion quickly.
Denny four and half million American teachers could end it on any given day. Our unions have grown politically timid, and professionally complacent. I might even say they have become part of the problem. I am not talking about tenure or union dues here, but about not fighting back hard against teaching license exams, high stakes testing, Value Added Measures, class sizes, resources, school funding, and for sustaining our local schools. Our unions regularly endorse and contribute to candidates whose public school policies are harmful to teachers, public schools, and children. Yes, we have pockets of powerful resistance leaders like Karen Lewis in Chicago and Barbara Madeloni in Massachusetts. We Have BAT Caucuses in NEA, and We Working Caucuses in AFT, but they are pockets not yet powerful enough to take American Teacher Unions to where England's teacher unions are. The plan is to call on our teachers to radically occupy our profession and our unions.
Denny asked are you aware of colleges like Dowling and Briarcliffe colleges on Long Island and Burlington College in Vermont announcing sudden closures? It's not only Schools of Education Jesse it's whole universities closing their doors. While for profit colleges that regularly leave students in debt and without degrees are popping up all over the place. While our policy makers celebrate the privatizing of our publi schools and universities. Why would America remain silence and apathetic while it's institutions of higher learning are closing? Closing while parasitic for profit ventures are treating students as "Buyer Beware" customers.
The plan is to call for a radical occupation of our Schools of Education, and all our community colleges, our colleges and universities. Higher education should not be about profits. Higher education should be about opening doors not closing them. Higher Education should be about big dreams not student loan debt. Like union leadership our leaders in higher education ask little for their endorsements and contributions. We need new radical leadership ready to occupy our legislatures, governor mansions, Congress, the Senate and the White House. If you are not ready for radical occupation of public education, then you are part of the problem of the decline of higher education in America.
It was only a 90-minute lunch meeting. We did not get to the Charter Schools, "School to Prison Pipeline" race, poverty, high stakes testing, the destruction of locally elected school boards, or the closing of local public schools in Black and Brown communities. Yes, Denny the book will be bigger than one "Happy Warrior" walking. This one will not be silent about an American Public School system that has from day one left Black, Brown, Children with Disabilities, poor children in schools built to disarm them against inequity, and injustice. A public school system that robs them of their powerful histories of slavery and emancipation, immigration, labor, and their struggle for civil rights and their voting rights.
As John and I drove home from Cafe Luxembourg in New York City to Hartford Connecticut the responsibility of writing something bigger than one man walking scared us. Something bigger than a call to activism or radical occupation. It's a call for a new vision of public education. A vision deeply rotted in a national, state and local commitment to an education for the greater good of a people yawning to live in a land that as James Weldon Johnson taught his students to sing, Lift Every Voice and Sign" An education for sustaining and growing a new democracy. An education aching to care enough to share and expose the roots of a diverse people. Some who were already here, some who came for religious freedom, some forced into bondage, some who came to escape poverty and injustice, and some who arrived documented and some who are living undocumented lives. A call that builds on Whitman's I sing america, but grabs Langston Hughes "I too sing America". An America vision of education for economic and social justice. It's not a mere call to activism for the sake of activism. This is a call to go where Horace Mann dared not go at the birth of our public schools. This is a radical call to occupy a transformative and human place where all children, parents, teachers and public schools are valued and respected.
Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of Freedom wrote; "Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end, slaves to the text, fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community. They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of personal value." This leaves me thinking are we big enough to radicalize the whole notion of public education. Big enough to end the cycle of repeating a status quo of injustice and inequity.
Finally Denny asked what is your message to suburban parents whose children attend better funded schools?
Denny there is no safe place any longer. The public education reforms have turned all schools into testing houses of pain. The curriculum is no longer about what gifts your child might have, it's about turning every child in America into data points. It's not about children. It's about oppressing childhood. A conformity loss of the whole child. Public education reform is already coming for recess, art, music, and play everywhere. No community is safe.
Suburban parents are already rebelling. The Opt Out movement began there in a parent led refusal to capitulate, and is now fast moving to communities of color. Educating the Whole Child, the artist, the musician, the dancer, and the dreamers has always been suspect by education reformers from the very beginning. The history of public education is a battle of progressive educators defending child centered learning against conformity. These public education reformers have long had progressive education in their sights. Our political leaders have taken their 30 silver pieces from the wealthy, the powerful and the connected. No public school anywhere is safe. The truth is our suburban parents refusing the test is not enough to stop the dehumanization of our children. Trust me suburban parents won't have to be led to the fight they are already resisting. I say it is time for a radical occupation not only of public education, but an occupation of our democracy.
As John and I pulled into Hartford we understood this book is going to be the start of something bigger than us. We welcome the challenged. Thus a new bigger journey begins.
It begins with a simple question what is the purpose of public education?
Are public schools places to disarm the poor of their disdain of the wealthy, the powerful, and the connected?
Are they places to produce good complacent worker bees?
Are they testing factories to conform children in silent and apathetic citizens?
Are we big enough to open that public education Pandora's box?
Can you imagine your whole notion of public education being simple, sweet, and hopeful? Something tried and true, something whose shoes fit you well. Suddenly waking up in that place that's hard to leave. The notion that public education as I know it, is no longer comfortable. A public school system not rooted in equity and justice for all cannot be just, cannot be the great equalizer, and cannot save our democracy. I am one man walking in the name of love to that harder place. The place that puts humanity, equity, and justice first in our public schools. It is a place we have never been, but it's the better place our public schools need to go. It is a place well worth fighting for.
Trust me people this is a book you'll going to want to read. This is my promise for something far bigger than public education as we know it.
Still one man walking in the name of love,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner
If you like to listen to the tune this Walking Man is listening to today...it's "Lift Every Voice and Sing" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0XJPUA5xdI&index=5&list=RDuk3zXi8WVqk