Friday, July 29, 2011

Sorry Mr. President. We didn't come all this way for tea and cookies at the White House

Conferees discuss post-march strategies at our Think/Do Tank Workshop
The first day of the SOS conference was powerful. Hundreds of teachers and ed activists from across the country crowded into the American University auditorium and cheered wildly as an angry Jonathan Kozol attacked educational apartheid and urged them on to action on Saturday.

Calling out Education Secretary Arne Duncan by name, Kozol lambasted current administration policies, especially the test-crazy No Child Left Behind and Duncan's Race To The Top. NCLB can't be "fixed" said Kozol, but should be abolished. Kozol said that racial segregation in the schools was worse now than at any time since the assassination of Dr. King in 1968.

"The politicians you've got to struggle with the most are the ones who act like your friends," said Kozol. They will pull you aside and tell you quietly that they support you and that they're working inside the administration to change things, but that they can't say so openly.

Kozol's warning was timely. The day before, when a small group of teachers went over to the Department of Ed to protest cuts in arts programs, staffers invited them in for a chat. They had a brief audience with Duncan, after which the DOE's Justin Hamilton issued a statement to the media saying they had a "useful" discussion with SOS marchers. Many people at the conference told me that they felt used and manipulated by the DOE statement. And when a similar invitation was issued yesterday by the White House, SOS leaders politely declined,, offering to meet only after thousands of teachers voiced their demands and their anger with the administration at Saturday's march.

 "We didn't come all the way to Washington to have tea and cookies at the White House," a teacher from the west coast told me.

Martha Infante, a National Board Certified teacher from Southern California, tweeted from the conference:

The White House wants to meet w us? Thats great. Weve been pleading 4 a meeting for 2 years. Now, its time to march. Meet us at the ellipse.
The SOS March Executive Committee issued this statement Thursday evening::

We sincerely appreciate the interest of the White House in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. We'd be pleased to host any White House or Department of Education personnel on the Ellipse on Saturday so they can hear firsthand what teachers, students, parents and community members from around the country have to say about public education. Thousands of concerned citizens will be sharing their experiences and their thoughts on the future of our schools. July 30th is your opportunity to listen to us. After the March, we will be open to meeting with White House or Department of Education leaders to further discuss our specific proposals.
Diane Ravitch will keynote this morning's session with what should be another barn-burner. 


  1. I have to say - I wish the Executive Committee had taken the White House up on their offer. I get that folks didn't want to get co-opted, lose momentum, give the White House the chance to claim the march, etc... but when the White House calls, you go. Moreover, if we want a seat at the table, you accept the offer. Being a professional outsider isn't good for the movement. I guarantee you that DfER doen't turn down the chance to go to the White House.

  2. Chris has it backwards. When DFER and hedge-fund reformers call, the White House jumps. SOS is right to meet with Obama and Duncan after the march and not let individuals get picked off and used by the Race To The Top crowd.

  3. I agree with Chris. You can't dialogue if you aren't at the table at all. I understand the frustration, but personal connections are an important part of even beginning a dialogue.

  4. Enough with this "seat at the table" b.s. They'll hear us in the street just fine. Look what the seat at the table got the NEA.

  5. We hear this all the time: It's important to be at the table. Not if it's the kiddie table. And this is America. No one has to jump when the White House calls. The President works for you and me, not the other way around.

  6. This is so heartening. I love the way this situation was handled. The conference has been nothing short of amazing.

  7. If this were July of 2009, I might agree with Chris. In July of 2011, it's clear that we were duped, or that we saw what we wanted to see a few years ago. By now, Obama, Duncan, and the DOE have made their priorities and intentions clear through their actions. They have wasted so many words that further dialogue feels meaningless; only actions and policy changes matter now, and if we were going to make any progress through dialogue and debate, it would have happened already. The March maintains greater force and generates more political pressure by not falling for the last second co-opt distraction.

  8. The fact of the matter is.... the White House has not responded to our calls, emails, letters, opinions, articles, or rallies. So, teachers and activists have decided it is time to step up and be the heroes.

    I applaud all those marching in DC. I also applaud the Save our Schools March organizers for their decision. While many may have jumped at a chance to meet at the White House, the SOS organizers realize it is sometimes more important to stand your ground.

    Kudos to SOS... stand your ground on the ellipse. Our children deserve more than lip service and a photo op...

  9. Chris, I was at a panel discussion this morning at the NBPTS conference where Nancy Flanagan (one of the SOS organizers) pointed out that we, as teachers, need to remember that it's OUR table. That's the SOS line of thinking, and thus SOS' decision to decline the White House's invitation is, at the very least, consistent with their own perspective and ideology.

    Mike, I hope I'll run into you on the Ellipse tomorrow. I'm going to stay at the NBPTS conference until Linda's lunchtime keynote is done, and then bike down to the White House to catch the gang there.

  10. On more than one occasion when CPS parents had a legitimate concern to raise with the Board of Ed at their public monthly meeting, a staffer first pulled the group aside to offer instead a private meeting with the CEO.
    Parents fell for it the first time; the CEO listened politely and nothing was done to address their concerns.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.