Saturday, July 30, 2011

On our way to the SOS march

Diane Ravitch speaks at SOS pre-march conference
It seems like I've been doing this most of my adult life. Coming to D.C. to march around the White House has almost become a yearly ritual, starting with the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle to end the war in Vietnam and the many wars since, and now -- in some ways a continuation of those great movements -- the struggle to save and transform our public school system.

It's hot today in D.C. -- real hot. So to draw inspiration and fire myself up for 5 hours in the sun and on the hot city streets, I'm thinking of those striking Hyatt hotel workers who had the heat lamps turned on them while they picketed outside the Park Hyatt in Chicago on that 100 degree day.

I'm marching today not just to protest current administration education policies, but also against those same heartless bastards who are exploiting and oppressing those women housekeeping workers (mostly immigrants) at the Hyatt. And I'm here to oppose those same billionaires who dabble in school reform, who run the power philanthropies and who feel entitled to decide (without any public accountability) what's best for our schools and kids.

Diane Ravitch spoke at the conference yesterday and was her usual brilliant and inspiring self. An historian by trade, Ravitch laid out the history of the U.S. education "crisis" which goes back to the 19th century. This latest crisis, like most others, is both real and "manufactured" and is caused in many ways by NCLB -- "the worst piece of legislation ever." Ravitch's speech nicely complimented Jon Kozol's focus on apartheid schooling, the day before.

The biggest debate so far has been about whether or not to accept the White House invitation to meet before the march. To me, it's clear. The SOS leadership was right when they politely refused. I mean, just think about what would happen in a rushed meeting with WH staffers and PR guys. Who would speak for the marchers on such short notice? How would the message be shaped? How would it be used in the media to take the heat off of Duncan's disastrous Race To The Top, testing-mad policies?

No, much better to wait until after Sunday's  post-march Congress when democratic decisions can be made about who should meet with the President's people and what they should say. My hat's off to the SOS leadership for not taking the bait. I hope some of Duncan's people show up today to get a sense of just how deep and wide teacher and parent anger runs against his policies.

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