This is What Democracy Looks Like: The Save Our Schools Rally and March in Washington, D.C. 7/30/11

31 Jul


As I write, I can feel the dull sting of the sunburn on the back of my neck, the lone spot where I forgot to apply and re-apply sunblock during the Save our Schools rally and march in DC yesterday.  It was a blisteringly hot day, and I spent the majority of the warmest hours in direct sunlight on the National Mall, my sea-green “CHANGE AGENT” t-shirt becoming un-becomingly soaked in sweat and grime as the day wore on.  Yet the energy and excitement from the day still buzzes through my body, the sounds of the impassioned crowd chanting, “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” still ringing in my ears.

The event was attended by thousands of teachers, although I wish there had been more, and perhaps next year there will be.  Diane Ravitch declared it to be a “historic day,” the first time such a large-scale grassroots event had taken place to protest the status quo of US education.  Teachers and supporters came from all over the United States, with an especially remarkable turnout from Wisconsin.  At the ellipse, where the speeches were held, colorful signs dotted the crowd, condemning high-stakes testing, Arne Duncan, market-driven education, and teacher and union bashing; and pleading for full and equitable school funding, quality teacher education, and inclusion of the voices of parents, communities, and educators in educational policy.

The agenda for the rally and march called for an end to high stakes testing and evaluation for students, teachers, and schools; equitable funding for all schools; and localization of policy and curricular decisions.  And these points were certainly stressed throughout the day, not just in the printed words on protest signs, but in the powerful speeches of educational leaders who took the stage.  Linda Darling-Hammond said, “It is unacceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform in this country is bubbling in on scantron tests, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers so that those at the bottom can be fired or closed, not so that we will invest resources needed to actually provide good education in these schools.”   Diane Ravitch cried, “Education is a RIGHT, not a RACE! Races have one or two winners and everyone else loses!” And Jonathan Kozol remarked, “Dr. King, my friends, did not say…’I have a dream that someday…we will have more efficient, test-driven and anxiety-ridden, separate but not equal schools!'”

However, the most powerful message of the day was not included explicitly in the agenda and was most succinctly put by Texas superintendent John Kuhn: “IT’S THE POVERTY, STUPID!”  Ravitch reiterated the point that the real issue that must be addressed is poverty, holding up as evidence the recently released scores of the PISA, the international student assessment: schools with less than ten percent free and reduced lunch had scores higher than Finland and South Korea, the countries often touted as having the best education systems in the world; however, our poorest category of schools spared being dead last by our neighbor to the south. Ravitch went on to suggest concrete solutions, such as pre-natal care for poor pregnant women, contending, “that alone would reduce learning disabilities by a third, at least.”  Others also called on our political leaders to address what Ravich termed the “shame of our nation,” the fact that we lead the industrialized world in poverty. Darling Hammond argued passionately that we must “…challenge the aggressive neglect of our children, with one out of four living in poverty–far more than any other industrialized nation,” and adding that successful countries “ensure their children have housing, health care, and food security.”

This feels like a movement.  We MUST carry the momentum of this incredible day forward.  As Debbie Meiers said, “This is a crisis of DEMOCRACY.”  Our future and the future of public schoolchildren is at stake, and to paraphrase Jonathan Kozol, nothing can be merely fixed–we must ABOLISH the system of fanatic accountability and work on the one thing that WILL raise achievement: alleviating poverty.  We must mobilize and stand together under a common vision to address the underlying inequalities that are accepted as commonplace in our society in order to achieve educational equity.  THIS IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS EDUCATORS.

If you are in the New Jersey area and want to get involved in local teacher activism to save public education and reduce educational inequalities, please email me at kate_strom@yahoo.com.  If not, find your local educational activism group at http://teacheractivistgroups.org or http://www.democraticeducation.org/. If there isn’t one near you–start one.

Links to speeches quoted here:

 

Diane Ravitch:

John Kuhn:

 

Linda Darling-Hammond

 

Jonathan Kozol:

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2 Responses to “This is What Democracy Looks Like: The Save Our Schools Rally and March in Washington, D.C. 7/30/11”

  1. James Boutin August 2, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    Thanks for all the videos in one spot!

  2. stand4education August 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    This was a great recap of the rally. And I absolutely loved the Diane Ravitch peace. I did not attend but my students were there, and actually won first and second place in the Save Our Schools PSA Contest that accompanied the march. They were down there with the New Jersey Education Organizing Collaborative, which we are a part of. Keep telling the truth!

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