Ask a Teacher

A School Boycott Isn’t the Way To End Gun Violence

On this suggested school boycott-let’s be serious.
In The Atlantic, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan   suggested a massive nationwide school boycott to pressure our leaders into action to address gun violence. But a boycott of schools is not the way to pressure unwilling establishment leaders for better gun laws, and it is a shame that people considered to be leaders in education are pushing an idea that so disrespects our families, students, schools, and educators. 
Maybe Duncan was just taking a “here’s a way to stay relevant and try to salvage some Democrat dignity in a high-profile way” opportunity. As much as the “education reform” camp likes to throw the “job-for-life and a pension” criticism at dedicated public school educators-you will never see a sector of society that protects its own more than the political sector, and Democrats are painfully obvious about it these days, abandoning any unbiased support of candidates that voters favor to instead support the least likely to serve the people option. Do we really want to talk about jobs for life? Folks like Duncan never really go away, they just swirl around the universe of influence through high paid consultancies, lobbying, speaking engagements.
I only stray a little here because this establishment tendency to promote and protect itself is the very reason the need for some action on gun policies exists. There has previously been no reason for lawmakers to seriously fear the consequences if the consequences won’t be delivered. They, just as teachers often do, protect their own.
…let’s be honest…
An education leader suggesting others skip school is not some inspiring call to action. It promotes more inaction. To be fair to Duncan, he was expressing support for an earlier comment by his former colleague, Peter Cunningham, who had tweeted:
“Maybe it’s time for America’s 50 million school parents to simply pull their kids out of school until we have better gun laws” (Twitter, May 18, 2018)
I have communicated with Cunningham enough to accept that his heart is in the right place, and I have to accept that Duncan’s is too when I read his thoughts on our ongoing failure as a nation to do something substantive about gun violence and school shootings in particular:
“So, that’s a long way of saying: The fact that we can’t get that done in this country, it just—it breaks my heart. I’m angry. I’m infuriated.” (The Atlantic, May 22nd, 2018)
He should be infuriated. We all should be. But forget their hearts-where are their heads at? We can’t let either true emotion or the kind that simply plays well in our inner circles and on social media blind us or move us to misstep into a battle. With a school boycott, we’re talking tens of millions of school-aged children; parents who may or may not be available to care for their children or be able to find care for them. Duncan has briefly acknowledged in his statements that these sorts of things can be inconvenient to the poor folk, but thinks they can find ways to tough it out-you know, how they did in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Beyond being disconnected from regular folks, there is also a matter of an incredible opportunity people this smart should not ignore:
Just think about all those schools the truants would be absent from. They represent a force to be reckoned with.
…and let’s think about what their call for a boycott really means.
Therein lie my main problem with this idea Cunningham and Duncan have put out there. I believe they’re smarter than this. Or maybe I hope and/or suspect that they are. I assume that they know schools are not simply co-victims of the traumas that immediately result from shootings, but are also depended on to process the aftermath. They are called on to do this the same way that they do day-in and day-out to help learners process daily traumas-the seen and unseen.
So now I find myself questioning their honesty. Do they know, or is disrespecting and dismissing the value of our public schools just what they do? Maybe it’s just a “I’m mad at my wife, the dog is there, so I kick my dog and walk out of the house figuring That’ll show her!” response that makes no sense coming from apparently smart people. “Boycott school” is simply counter-intuitive to me.
And here’s why:
1) A boycott ignores public schools as the resource they are, have always been, but are rarely allowed to be. 
Counter-intuitive, yes, but I guess I’m not really surprised. An early response from Cunningham to my critical thinking on this boycott was:
“He (Duncan) is using his voice to save lives. You have a better idea? What are you doing to stop mass shootings? Active-shooter drills? I bet that helps kids concentrate on their studies.”
See, teachers don’t want to have to do active shooter drills any more than parents want their children to have to participate in them. We don’t like getting preached at either while doing intervention, prevention, remediation for the damage done by a political revolving door bipartisan attack on the fabric of our society as well as public education.
But one thing good teachers do really well is make connections and help others make them too. When I saw the boycott suggestion I almost immediately thought that “Hey parents, do whatever you have to do to boycott your schools, that’ll teach those gun lobbyists” was destructive and clueless. The fact that TFA and KIPP edu-activists were eager to jump on makes me even more curious about the path that this concern for other people’s schools and children has taken.
2) There’d be little comparison between the sacrifices/impacts of parents and students executing a school boycott, and those of fare-paying bus riders in 1950’s Montgomery.
The loss of revenue, with so many riders boycotting the buses, didn’t just hit the city. It also impacted the businesses those bus riders frequented. The city of Montgomery was worried, and the conflict was racial. The city tried various ways to undermine the mechanisms the black community implemented (discount taxi rates, independent ride-sharing/carpooling, etc.), and there was violence. I am not sure the same type of economic incentive would exist in a stay at home “action”.
But a willingness to exploit the plight of the poor for political points while denying any obligation to work in service or sacrifice for them is a connection from Montgomery to today, revealed by this brief exchange between Cunningham and I:
P.C.: Let’s be honest: we don’t have effective policy levers to force integration. We have to change the culture of racism. 
ME: Install the levers. All schools public and open, kids bused in. The Lab, open. Sidwell, open. Lakeside, open. When rich “reformers” have their kids in school with the neediest, watch reform transform.
P.C.: Let me know how that works out
ME: You make it sound as if those driving reform from behind the walls of privilege would be unwilling to reflect upon check on or share their own. I see that being a possible response. Neat to force the public admission and explanation.
There is great resistance to do anything to actually advance the conditions of the neediest, and I think Cunningham knows it. He has cited the lack of political will in addressing poverty in the past. I think Duncan knows too, and yet takes a paternalistic “I am going to spread the word from on high that the masses staying at home will really send a message” approach.
This issue, if you can’t tell, has me “lit” as my daughters would say. Or is it “woke”? Or is it “finna-woke”? I don’t know. I’ll check with them in a bit and they will confirm my un-coolness even when I try to get hip to these young kids jive.
Let’s just say I’ll be gardening with a vengeance and drinking for clarity later because it’s a sad day when I find myself agreeing with Michelle Malkin.
Yet here we are. The sad day is here –courtesy of her National Review article. You should read this. I am not even going to pull quotes from her article because I am still no fan of Malkin’s and I’m shaking my head that I agree with much of what she says.
Ughh… Okay. Just one quote:
“My family is all in if we can do this at scale,” he (Duncan) nobly tweeted. But what his slavering fans in the liberal media won’t tell you is that Duncan’s wife works at — and his own children attend — the exclusive, private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Tony Hyde Park, which a Lab Schools brochure brags is “patrolled by the University of Chicago Police Department and private security.”  (Michelle Malkin, Educrat Arne Duncan, Weasel of the Week, May 23, 2018)
Yes, The Lab. One of the same schools I suggested to Cunningham that should join the list of great, high achieving schools with apparently highly effective teachers leading the integration way by opening it’s doors to all who come-being a beacon of integration and “poverty is just an excuse” success that teachers and their unions have failed to find in local, democratically run traditional schools.
Of course I know Malkin has no interest in supporting the cause of public schools or teachers and their unions. Heck, if Obama refused to do it, do you think she would?
But she points out that there is a very casual and elitist way that these people who were supposedly charged with leading and reforming education for everyone else,  have totally disrespected it and treated it as a commodity to be tinkered with and re-purposed to serve them in the way they deem fit- as a means to test/label/evaluate and direct into predetermined slots as opposed to a resource for true empowerment.
I am a silver lining/pot of gold/see the opportunity kind of guy.
Do I blame myself because Democrats are so entrenched and unwilling to defy their money-trough and serve the American people? Is Donald Trump president because I didn’t vote for Hillary? Do I blame Michelle for pointing out some painfully obvious conflicts in the Cunningham/Duncan moral convictions and on-the-ground performance? Believe me, I am frustrated too. Maybe some real “hope and change” could have moved us off the path that brought us to where we are today. Maybe if our schools weren’t continually scapegoated for every national failure we would see less erratic moral convictions.
Maybe if our schools weren’t continually scapegoated for every national failure we would see less erratic moral convictions. Click To Tweet
So on both ignoring and disrespecting schools or allusions of Montgomery grandeur: both are mistakes. If you are honestly preparing for a battle like this, taking on the establishment politicians and their sugar-daddies, we will need to bring in the real power.
So let me suggest an alternative, as an educator and an actual advocate of education (and real education reform).
Instead of a passive boycott that ignores the people who can actually do stuff, and should be empowered to do it; instead of keeping some untold millions of other people’s children home and primarily inconveniencing concerned parents:
Bring them in. Bring them in to school along with any parents available, and go on a school-sponsored and chaperoned civics field trips. If Mr. Duncan and Mr. Cunningham, their philanthropic connections, or their friends at TFA and KIPP would like to participate: the more there are the more powerful the statement made could be. Make it a media event. Travel to the state capitals. Brown-bag those lunches. Set up tables and register the voting age students, any parents who aren’t registered, and any willing passers-by who come to check it out. Distribute flyers detailing the sad inaction of legislators. Have available information on incumbents, candidates, their voting records, their platforms, and their donors. Have everyone wearing matching t-shirts in some striking color with a shocking graphics and catchy taglines (e.g., “REGULATION not confiscation”, “Babies over Bullets”, “How many funerals have NRA dollars bought”…).
I am not suggesting that teachers or schools endorse any candidate or party, merely educate and activate. Align curriculum, classroom activities and this proposed field trip with the much praised Common Core Standards, and bring those standards and teaching to life, make them happen and draw on their potential. I’m frankly surprised that neither Cunningham or Duncan thought of this, but I am unclear on their teaching experience. Even on vacation I am grabbing brochures and snapping pictures with my students in mind, and I will never believe that sending a message from home is as powerful as delivering one in person. Especially if you’re talking millions of persons nation-wide.
In regards to the common core standards:
Those standards in N.Y. say:
“Citizens leverage both electoral and non-electoral means to participate in the political process.” (12G4
“Citizens participate in civic life through volunteerism and advocacy, including efforts such as contacting elected officials, signing/organizing petitions, protesting, canvassing, and participating in/organizing boycotts.” (12G4e)
The way
Think about that Cunningham/Duncan approach. Totally antithetical to their usual enthusiasm for anything that can be linked to Obama-era reforms (common core standards) and parental involvement/”choice” (as long as it isn’t those annoying moms opting students out of onerous over-testing, believing their kids are smart or something).
Now do we ignore standards and the power of the parent/student/potential of collective action? Parents, do this school boycott thing, keep them educators out of this, just stay home and let’s hope something happens?
That is not the way.
I can’t imagine many other states leaving civic responsibility out of its standards, so instead of nationwide, ongoing school-skipping, let’s make the most of our schools. Empower the standards and the educators who know how to best put them to use. I would be willing to bet the reaction to many many millions of willing bodies and newly registered voters would  be quicker than Montgomery’s was to the bus boycott.

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