Diversity and America’s Generation Gap
by Ruth Rodriguez-Fay ~ Diversity Adviser of Save Our Schools
"If you don’t understand the journey of those you serve, you cannot be an advocate for justice." - Mary Bacon
Mary’s quote above is essential to this presentation that I have been honored to share today. It is critical because of the present day infusion of Corporate America into the design and construct of our public schools. It is also more so, because those who have set their goal into restructuring our public schools have chosen to isolate certified educators, child development experts and families whose stakes are high in ensuring our children success. Instead, we have everyone from billionaires, hedge funds moguls, real estate investors positioning themselves as the saviors of what they have come to label as “failing” schools. They have used their $$power to influence legislators into passing an education reform that goes against what we educators have been trained to do. The disrespect to the teaching profession, especially those of us educators of color, has been unprecedented. No other profession has received such attacks as teachers have, such blatant attacks by non-educators on our ability to do what we have spent our lifetime career mastering.
The Billionaires and hedge funds moguls have waged a war against public education, especially harmful to communities of color, never seen since a century ago, when a similar attempt by Corporate was made. The nation’s largest lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), looking for profit ventures for their investors, determined that public education was a multi-trillion investment opportunity just waiting to be tapped; and they wasted little time to begin to concoct a business-model, profit-making endeavor masquerading as education reform with business, factory-style measure, one that these bandits will never consider subjecting their own children. My friend, today’s leading respected civil rights advocate, Rose Saunders, almost brought me to tears when she declared that, "this is the worst war ever fought on American soil, for neither the civil war, nor the war for civil rights can compare, for the casualties of this war are our precious children."
I was hopeful when Governor Deval Patrick of MA announced his Readiness Project, seeking advice on his education policies. I was honored to serve on his Massachusetts Comprehensive and Assessment System (MCAS) and Assessment initiative, hoping to have the opportunity to present an alternative to the damaging high-stake test forced upon all the children, one that had killed the dreams of so many children who were denied a high school diploma based on this single test. Learning that our alternative recommendations were denied, and the state would continue with the MCAS, I confronted the Governor at his event at Framingham State University, in an audience of over 300 people, I said face to face, “Governor, I thank you for giving the opportunity to serve in your Readiness Project on MCAS and Assessment. I am saddened that you did not accept our recommendation for alternative form of assessment, and have made the decision to continue the harmful test. But, I challenge anyone in this room, including you Governor, to immerse yourself in Spanish for one year, then take the test in Spanish, for that Governor, is what you are asking English language learners to do.” One year of English immersion was all that former Governor Mitt Romney believed English language learners needed to compete with their English speaking counterparts; as a result, MA has continued to demand that all students must take the test, and if they fail, they do not receive a diploma. That night Governor Patrick promised that he will look into this and pointed me to one of his staff. Unfortunately, MA English language learners still are subjected to the test!
Let us look at how one goes about privatizing public education? First, you manufacture a crisis and instill public fear. We saw in the Hollywood propaganda, Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, where teachers were blamed for everything that is wrong in the country, and posed schools and the students as “failures”, who needed to be rescued, this time by a business-style intervention. Create a rallying cry for the need to save citizens from an imminent danger, and only they can provide the relief, in this case, since teachers are the problem, they will provide immediate relieve through their profit-making endeavor, known as Teach for America. These are recent young college graduates, (no need to have an education degree, only agree not to join the teacher’s union), who will receive 5 weeks of training where they are advised never to associate with union, certified teachers. These teaching interns are replacing certified, union teachers with years of experience, then are placed in the school districts with majority Black and Latino student populations. They fit right in with the Charter Schools Enterprise, who enjoy the hiring of non-union, and many non-certified teachers. You then create a system which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is done through the enforcement of a high stake test that is used to deny student’s promotion and graduation, evaluate teachers based on student’s test scores, then when a school reaches the level of failing based on the test, then they come in with the claim that since schools are failing they are the only ones that can save them.
I have a challenge understanding how these profiteers positioned themselves as the savior of a system that they created. Remember when the Bush administration went to bomb Iraq? The campaign prior to the bombing was filled with lies about weapons of mass destruction, how we were going to save the people of Iraq from their evil leaders. Then, after destroying the country, our government came back to the people saying that our tax dollars will be used to give Chaney’s Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair what they broke. It is the same playbook they are using in education, create the conditions for failure until the system is broken, then claim that they alone can fix it. In order to fix what they broke, they use an appealing language, like “innovation”, “reform,” and their favorite, “choice.” What we have come to understand about “choice,” is that the choice is only for the profiteers not the families of children with special needs nor the English language learners.
Another form used is to deflect the truths with dog-whistle propaganda, glossy presentations that disguise the real ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.” Once the propaganda is solidified, that is when ALEC came in. ALEC, with funding from Bill Gates, were the mastermind behind the Common Core, who were able to forge alliances with big business and state legislators. Another brilliance of the profiteers was to buy off both major political parties, as we now know that both Republicans and Democrats have drunk the Corporate education reform cool-aid. This was done through the creation of legislation that politically and financially benefited the stake holders in this case the Billionaires and Wall Street investors and the politicians. They also use the tactic of laundering the policies through a number of non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy, where the origins are not easily traced.
These are the same “stake holders,” comprised of corporations who are managing charter schools and online schools and other “options” in the place of the “failing schools.” Deals are made with textbook and testing companies that schools must use, generating billions of profits for these companies, while public schools languish from lack of resources, such resources that otherwise schools could spend hiring teachers to reduce class size, or provide essential needed materials.
Charter schools claims to be the solution for the failing schools, have been shown to do no better than the schools they rob the resources from, and many have established policies that “counsel-out” students that they fear will not pass the test, and the public school from where those students come, must take them back. They traditionally do not take high leveled special need students, nor English language learners.
Now, I want to end with this food for thought: The Common Core was designed with little to none expert educator or child development advice. When, the President announced its early education initiative, many of us were hopeful that our Black and Latino young children will benefit from early intervention. But, as we read the wording and began to understand what was involved, it became clear that "test and punish" was now being imposed on children who were 4 and 5 years old. To her dismay, my friend Nancy Carlsson Page, Professor of early education at Lesley University expressed her disdain, as she told me, “for now we have 4 and 5-year-olds, who should be spending their time in play activities, learning about their environment and socializing as well as developing a love for learning, forced to spend the better time of the school year prepping for a single test, a test that has been shown to be harmful and abusive to children.”