The year: 1980
Activists in education are needed now more than ever. I was thirteen years old when I saw this coming. A smug ex-actor with Brylcreemed hair dropped a condescending line in a presidential debate. That isn’t a big deal by itself, especially when you consider how low the presidential decency bar currently is. But at the time, about four decades ago, I understood what was happening. In politics, substance and representation (moral obligation) was losing to style (sponsored salesmanship). I decided to register to vote as soon as I could. I would speak up and speak out whenever I could. Corny and naive for thirteen, I know, but I had an unusual childhood and a different way of looking at the world.
I had also decided that I wanted to become a teacher.
A Sign of Things to Come
The future teacher-me understood it then. Ronald Reagan was being dismissive of then-President Jimmy Carter who warned that Reagan would likely come after Medicare. The condescending response from Reagan was, “There you go again,” but I knew Carter was right. Reagan ended up winning the White House away from Carter, paving the way for even more schmuckery in future battles for the White House and dishonesty from those who end up in it. Less than a year after Reagan was elected, news reports regarding his proposed budget noted that:.
“The programs affected are the government’s two largest in the health field: Medicare for the elderly and disabled, Medicaid for the poor.”
The nation was soon to see attacks weren’t just on the health of the masses, especially the most vulnerable. The willingness of leaders to also turn on our schools was growing.
One of the most significant assaults on public education in my memory came at that time.
A Nation At Risk was rolled out by the Reagan administration in 1983 and it made its rhetorical goal clear with language like this:
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
I would blame sentiment like this on the poison hearts of Republican leaders, but Democrats have done no better. Just think now about how “education reform” in the Obama era echoed the alarmist tones of Republicans from yesteryear. Bad teachers and failing schools once again posed a national security threat. We need to be better if we want to compete with India and China.
Why not learn from and compete with Finland instead, you ask?
Teachers and public education advocates were asking the same question. We had been hearing plenty about the need to coerce schools, remove the union protections and bargaining rights of teachers, and make school more gritty and rigorous for poor children, but teachers knew that other schools around the world had achieved great results with less abuse and disrespect.
In this book review of Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, the story of a super-bright Oklahoman student named Kim is told. At 12 years old, Kim knew she needed more than what Oklahoma could offer her, and she raised the money to travel and attend school in Finland.
Jake Miller, who reviewed the book for The Educator’s Room, shares Kim’s experience:
… she thoroughly enjoyed her teachers, who were more invested, better paid, and more respected. The “other big difference she’d noticed about Finland: the inexplicable stretches of luxurious freedom.” Parents trusted kids more, and parents trusted teachers, and students respected both. This symbiotic relationship was a launchpad for their culture to really make the improvements it did in education in the 1990s.
The real target all along has been the working and lower classes of America.
Don’t forget that it was a 2007 campaign trail Barack Obama who said:
Understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you, as president of the United States of America.
Then, it was President Obama who ignored the Wisconsin teachers fighting for their bargaining rights and who was weak on his response to both the Occupy Wall Street and Dakota Access Pipeline issues. He allowed law enforcement to crack skulls, fire-hose, and rubber bullet citizens to forward the interests of the wealthiest few against the interests and demands of the people.
The party once trusted to lean towards the interests of the masses had turned away from them. Forget what you heard on Fox News then. Obama wasn’t anywhere near liberal or Socialist. Ignore what you hear today. Today’s Democrats are not the “party of the left.” They are just a tad left of Reagan.
I did end up registering to vote the day I turned 18
It was October 21, 1985. About five years had passed from the presidential debate where I saw that Republicans were overtly evil, but Democrats have not earned my trust either. Looking back, I’m a little torn regarding my party affiliation (or lack thereof?), but I have been too proud to change it. I’m a registered Independent Conservative.
Here was my thinking at the time:
It’s not “liberal” to believe marijuana should be legalized. It is liberal to pay for a war on drugs, invest in incarceration, and create a growing class likely to struggle in an effort to climb the social and economic ladder.
It’s not “liberal” to believe that love is between two consenting adults and that the choices they make behind closed doors are theirs to make. It is liberal to assume the power to waste your thought space on how to oppress others and eradicate their love.
On the flip-side: it’s not conservative to gush the wealth of the nation into endless foreign wars and supply-side economics and welfare for the corporate and investor classes. It’s not conservative to demand patriotism from the masses while you feed them to the furnaces of a “free market”.
I could have told you the day I registered
Democrats were helping to pave the way to our current crisis. A human failure of a sideshow clown doesn’t stumble his way through family millions, multiple bankruptcies, failed marriages, public buffoonery, “reality” show celebrity, and then into the White House. He used the systems and situations created by others to make it all happen. Democrats have failed us. Their pretense of being the party of the working class, of the environment, of the consumer, of the unions, of education… Those days are behind us, and the party struggles now to find someone to nominate who’ll help them fool voters into believing they care.
They definitely know who they don’t want to nominate, but who and what will they fight for-besides their access to donor dollars.
So what do we do?
Activists in education are needed
So unleash the teachers.
Like our will to care for each other, our will to educate each other is vital. I don’t mean just schooling. We can no longer settle for education that merely prepares us for standardized tests. Teachers aren’t delivering a product, despite the packaging of “choice” and the language of “quality schools” vs “failing schools”. Teachers are meeting needs.
We can no longer settle for education that merely prepares us for standardized tests. Click To Tweet
Daily, teachers are going far beyond just teaching, and they are meeting physical and emotional needs daily while trying to equip learners to meet their own. The greatest contribution of our public schools is to educate (not school) our students, their families, and our communities.
We need to support all our people and rally them together. We need to show up in the streets and at the polls. We need to send up the message that candidates who smile and say vaguely inspiring, but empty, words while offering little in the way of being a true advocate are no longer wanted.
Teachers can do this. The fight was brought to us long ago, so we don’t have to make up the arguments to bring to this fight.
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