2000-2018 My journey from academia to radical education activist.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. (F. Douglas, 1857)
My Struggle 2000-2009
My beliefs were naïve, that truth alone could bring equity and justice to our public schools. I knew this struggle was a moral one. How could the fight against inequity in our public schools be anything else? I would spend the next 9 years writing articles reviewing the research, presenting success stories at state, national and international education conferences. I became an advocate for holistic education, and culturally relevant curriculums. I set out to find teacher advocates with similar pedagogical understandings. I found many successes. Educators were making a difference in poor communities using culturally relevant and holistic curriculums. I shared their stories with mine. Sadly, I discovered truth alone would not bring equity and relevance to our public schools. For nine years, I didn’t realize that just like Frederick Douglas this struggle was both moral and physical.
I realized back in 2000 that America’s growing obsession with rigorous standards and new testing was nothing more than yet another form of trickle-down economics, a new myth of progress. It is no coincidence the driving force behind this love of testing came out of “A Nation At Risk.” These policy reforms demanded high-stakes testing and competition become the focus of education reform in our public schools. Like many academics, I used Berliners Manufactured Crisis and policy papers from National Education Policy Center’s research to point out consistent failures of testing, masking as education reform. Research clearly demonstrates high-stakes testing reforms do not lead to better test scores. They lead to more children being identified as special education, along with increasing numbers of behavior problems at school. NCLB’s trickle-down economics, I knew back then, would eventually leave our public-school system with greater inequity and immense debt. The last straw for me was George Bush’s selection of Secretary Page, and their push for No Child Left Behind legislation. This legislation cemented high-stakes testing and charter schools as the only road to equity for black, brown, poor and special education children in our nation’s public schools. One trillion dollars was spent, not on providing funding and equity for poor schools, but for new standards and testing. (America’s love affair with testing actually began way back in 1892 with the National Education Association Committee of Ten. A national call for new more rigorous standards and common assessments). https://archive.org/stream/cu31924030593580#page/n260/mode/1up. NCLB, RTTT, and ESSA are not innovative and creative education reforms. They are a continuation of 126 years of education reform failures. The Committee of Ten worked to narrow down the curriculum to better connect high school and college education as the beginning of culturally and racially irrelevant education. A basic knowledge of American Public Education History informs us that testing and standards have never succeeded in bringing equity and justice to our public schools. These reforms are big sink holes, whatever is built upon them will eventually collapse. Finally, we find ourselves even further from any sense of a just and equal public education.
You cannot go against the tide without risk.
Back in2002, before it ever became law, I was speaking out against No Child Left Behind in Connecticut. In 2003, I chaired a conference at Central Connecticut State University entitled “Children Are More Than Test Scores”. This conference put my tenure at risk. Unbeknownst to me a Republican Congressional member went to the president of our university to complain about the conference and the notion that NCLB would fail children. Years later, V.P. Dr. Elene Demos would tell me “I saved your ass back then”. In 2003 my position as a faculty member became secure but my work in professional development halted. Think about it, who hires the professor who calls high-stakes testing a sham to help improve their schools test scores? 2003 was my Douglas moment, this struggle is both moral and physical.
My struggle continues
When Barack Obama took office, Arne Duncan Secretary of Education, already had the failing data. We expected change, but S Duncan argued the focus on early literacy was wrong. He argued for the need of new standards, new tests, the need to shift for academic literacy reform in upper grades. In 2009 and 2010 two more impact studies were published, both showed the same failing data. All their recommended reforms demonstrated losses. Once again, the control groups out performed. Duncan not only continued the same failed policies. He put the idea of forcing poor schools to compete against each other for limited resources on the front burner. School choice would become his mantra. In 2017 our public schools have become more segregated and more inequitable. Choice without equity is an immoral choice.
Martin Buber Austrian-born Jewish philosopher who advocates philosophy of dialogue said: “The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.” In 2009, I found myself increasingly looking beyond the rhetoric of public media’s presentation on issues in education. Welcome beautiful 2010 the year we start to look beyond the propaganda.
What could I do? I am no man of power. I hold no great influence with the wealthy, the powerful, and the connected. I do not dine with CEOs, Senators, Governors, Commissioners, or Presidents.
In 2010, I walked from Connecticut to Washington, DC to protest testing in our public schools. I understood research and data did not matter to these education reformers. They were not driven by evidence. Ten years of NCLB and RTTT education reforms had nothing to do with improving education. Education Reform in America harmed black, brown, poor and special education children. But these reforms made billions of dollars for publishers of textbooks, tests, and on- line data tracking systems. NCLB had turned our children into test scores. RTTT was about to place For Sale signs on the public schools in our poorest communities. Silence and apathy are not acceptable. I came to accept the struggle for equity and justice in our public schools as a struggle for freedom. So, while my walking began in 2010, it continues today. Walking is the inspiration for my writing, my teaching, and my activism. Along the way I became an SOSer, (Save Our Schools March) a BAT, (Badass Teacher) a UOO, (United Opt Out) a Moral Monday CT member, a Black Lives Matter member, and Journey 4 Justice supporter. Walking inspires my teaching, my activism, and my unionism.
In 2015, I walked again, that 400-mile trek from Connecticut to Washington DC to protest the newest education reform propaganda ESSA. In returning to Frederick Douglas 1857 “West Indian Emancipation” speech I take comfort in his words:
In America, there has to be equity and justice in our public schools. Let me go the well of hope. Let me remember the dreamer who went to the mountain top. Let his words help right the broken threads of our nation’s tapestry of freedom, justice, love, and hope.
“The other America,” “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” ~ Dr. King, 1968.
So, Dylan sang It's "A Hard Rain Gonna Fall"
Like in 2018, just like 1776, 1857, and 1968,
I gonna walk in that hard rain,
I am one man walking,
One man walking for justice.
Not, worried about those hard rians,
Not, worried about how many miles it takes to get there.
Inspired by walking giants.
I do not need to win today,
I know justice will prevail.
If, not today, then tomorrow…
When it arrives,
I’m going to hang up these walking shoes.
I a man in love this progress of our struggle.
Come join our radical rising.
Jesse The Walking Man Turner
F. Douglas, (1857). If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5al0HmR4to <
Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?