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Monday, August 8, 2011

Reflections on the SOS conference and March 8 days later

 Reflections of the Save Our Schools March ~ some 8 days later…

What did it feel like to march? 
For over a year now I have been saying “Silence and Apathy are not acceptable when it comes to our children”. Standing with the thousands of marchers in DC last week it felt so fantastically empowering to listen to an array of speakers, my fellow organizers, and the thousands like us who were all there for one thing and one thing only, to stand up and march to the White House, and chant "whose children- our children"..."whose schools-our schools", "whose teachers-our teachers"  siting here more than a week later, I can still hear the chant, and it’s music to my old ears. 
Finally the day had arrived and the SOS marchers could not remain silent any longer.  With another generation of children become subject to the same old failed punitive policies of NCLB/RTTT.  I joined the thousands of parents, teachers, and educators who all felt exactly like me “Silence and Apathy are not acceptable”.  Finally we were saying it out loud enough for all to hear, we are the marchers, and it was the marching that empowered us. It was just the thought of marching that gave us the strength to grow a national resistance to the mental slavery of top-down reform policies of NCLB/RTTT. In my humble opinion last Saturday July 31, 2011 was one of those historical moments, where in later years, people will ask “were you there?”  Our SOS Conference and March marks the turning point against a tide of more unfunded NCLB/RTTT mandates.

I liken the 2011 Save Our Schools Conference at the American University In Washington DC to the First Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, NY, where the suffrage movement in America was first launched.  At the time media and press coverage was not too positive, but history marks it as the spark that lit the flame of a national Women’s Movement. Attendance at the 1848 Seneca Fall Convention was 300 women and men; the very same number who attended our conference at the American University.   We filled every spot, and even had to turn some away. The Seneca Falls Convention began the first national battle for women’s suffrage. It would take another 72 years before  the women of America  obtained the right to vote.
Last Saturdy,
We did not declare victory at our SOS rally and march.
There was no “Mission Accomplished” announcement.
We merely opened the door of resistance to NCLB's “Top Down Education Policy Reform Models.”
But look out Secretary Arne Duncan, because the resistance is going to continue banging at that door!

Did the Save Our Schools March and Conference accomplish its goals?
We had initially hoped to fill up our conference, we did it sold out pretty quickly.  We hoped for some 3000 to 5000 people, we had at least 5000, and "National Parks Service” estimates some 6000 to 8000 people. Last year in August 2010 when I walked to DC from Connecticut some 50 people showed up at the American University, and two local newspapers wrote articles about my walk.
This year,  CNN, MNBC, Fox, and news stories from mainstream media and the blogs still continue to come in.  It’s true, quite a bit of the press focused on Matt Damon whose message to the crowd that day made the perfect point about public school and its teachers: 

"As I look at my life today, the things that I value about myself, my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity, came from the way that I was parented and taught," Damon proudly told the teachers, while stopping to hug his Mom  ~ a teacher...

"And none of these qualities that I just mentioned, none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, none of these qualities that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful professionally, none of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested," (Matt Demon Save Our Schools March 7/30/11). Matt Demon brought the press and we loved him for making a stand for our public schools.

Are we satisfied?
No indeed, not yet, we need so many more, to continue to speak up, to stand up, to march, and to vote in this coming election year. It’s a long road to the change ahead of us.
I find courage in Robert Frost’s poetry and his immortal words:
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep"
These woods of change is where this New England Walking Man does is walking. Like Robert Frost our New England Poet whose rode his horse around his farm each evening into the woods on snowy nights. 

What exactly did the Save our School March and Week of Action Accomplish?
Were we noticed?  Yes!
Was it mostly positive?  I believe so.
Were we criticized from the right and the left? Yes.
The critics on both sides ignored the influence of groups such as Parents Across America, they ignored the numerous academics in attendance, and on the podium.  Instead they focused on union participation which they see as a weakness, but I see as a strength. Critics are critics ~ in their eyes we were too old, too white, and too hippie at best. What these critics over looked is how many in attendance at SOS were parents, how many were teachers, and how many spent our own dollars just to be there. Not one speaker was paid. So go ahead, shoot your arrows we can take them. Hit us with your best shot! We have been made strong by a decade of ignoring us. We are the people, and we are marching. Let me inform our critics that, we wear multiple hats. We are parents, we are teachers, we are union members, and some are old, some are young, some are hippies, some are conservatives, some are democrats, and some are republicans, but altogether we are the new face of American resistance to NCLB, and we are on the march! 

What’s next for SOS?
For most at the march it was back home to prepare for the coming school year. For the Walking Man it was right back to what I do most days. After our 7-hour drive home to Connecticut Sunday night I graded some papers, grabbed a few hours sleep, and was back working with children and teachers from 8:00am to 12:15 the following day.   From 1:00 to 5:00pm I was working in class with my teachers from Jamaica enriching their knowledge about diagnosis and remediation. Then I cleaned the Literacy Center, graded more papers, made the certificates of completion for the children, and ordered the sheet pizza for our end of program celebration. My teachers convinced Tony's Pizza to open early just so the kids can have a pizza party at 10:am in the morning.  I ended the night like every other night using social media to build the resistance. So with a kiss goodnight to my wife I ended my day the way I began it in prayer. Who is this Walking Man? Just another New England boy who dreams of a day when he can just teach again. 
So what happens next SOS?  The struggle continues, we will collaborate to organize parents and teachers locally, with a proposed march to our state capital Hartford. We will continue to work on enhancing our presence on Facebook with Children Are More Than Test Scores, I will work on my blog to be more informative. The congress ensures the resistance will continue, and for the first time in a year we are more than a handful of rag tag resisters. We are not alone. We are the resistance, a movement, and we are on the march Arne Duncan. 

Will the Walking Man be back next year in DC?
You can bet your bottom dollar on it ~ just in time for election year 2012.  
We are on the map and on the march! 
You can expect SOS to continue to collaborate and organize future resistance events at the local, state and national level. And I will do everything I can to bring SOS back to DC again in 2012 with 4 buses from Connecticut alone.
Want a look at the Walking Man on Connecticut Fox News discussing the Save Our Schools March?