By Ruth Conniff on December 10, 2013

Monday, December 9 was a national day of action to "reclaim the promise of public education."

Grabbing the energy of the Chicago teacher's strike, and the movement it spawned to resist school closures earlier this year, a coalition of labor, community, and civil-rights groups organized rallies across the country.

In more than 30 cities, teachers, parents, students, and community members turned out to support their public schools.

The photos and videos from rallies in Columbus, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Austin and San Jose, among other cities, are absolutely incredible to see.

The point of these actions was to bring attention to the threat of school privatization, as well as the toxic narrative that public education has "failed." Participants called for full funding for their local public schools, and a shift in focus to high-quality education instead of a corporate-driven test-and-punish model, as well as attacking poverty (not teachers) as the real, underlying problem for students who are struggling in our increasingly unequal society.

"We are standing up for America's students rather than market-driven reforms which don't address inequity," the Day of Action website declares. The rallies, it says, were designed to oppose a range of related ills "from high stakes testing, crowded classrooms, school closures, and the corporate grab draining school budgets."

"The people who know our students best -- parents, educators, community members, and students themselves -- are fighting for public schools ALL children deserve."

The teachers unions, NEA and AFT, helped organize the rallies along with a coalition of more than 100 community, religious, and civil rights organizations that have a stake in public education.

In October, these groups developed a set of "Principles that Unite Us" (PDF), including:

  • Public schools are public institutions

    "The corporate model of school reform seeks to turn public schools over to private managers and encourages competition -- as opposed to collaboration -- between schools and teachers.... Our most vulnerable children become collateral damage in these reforms. We will not accept that."

  • Strong public schools create strong communities

    "While education alone cannot eradicate poverty, schools can help to coordinate the supports and services their students and families need to thrive.... such as basic healthcare and dental care, mentoring programs, [and] English language classes ..."

  • Assessments should be used to improve instruction

    "We support accountability. But standardized assessments are misused when teachers are fired, schools are closed and students are penalized based on a single set of scores. Excessive high-stakes testing takes away valuable instructional time and narrows the curriculum."

    And finally:

  • Quality teaching must be delivered by committed, respected, and supported educators.

    "Today's corporate reformers have launched a war on teachers. We believe that teachers should be honored. Teaching is a career, not a temporary stop on the way to one.... Highly qualified teachers and school staff are our schools' greatest asset."

Here at the Progressive, through our Public School Shakedown website, we have been working to expose the threat of school privatization and a corporate-driven "reform" model that drains resources from public schools.

On the national Day of Action, we announced a major new initiative on the Shakedown site: the Teach For America Truth Squad.

Exposing Teach For America is an important piece of the school-reform puzzle.

As Beth Sondel, an expert on Teach For America (TFA), as well as a TFA alumna and one of the founders of the Resist Teach For America Facebook Page explains in a lead piece: TFA "has done an unparalleled job of recruiting young adults, developing their passions for ending educational inequity, and training them to believe that market-based polices and pedagogies that increase standardized test scores are in the service of social justice."

But behind that idealistic veneer, Teach For America is doing real damage.

"TFA is no longer filling a teaching void, but instead replacing more experienced, veteran teachers in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City ... Washington, D.C., and now Philadelphia," Sondel writes.

"In addition, while TFA claims to be an apolitical organization, it is becoming increasingly clear that the organization's 'movement to end educational inequity' is fundamentally a movement towards corporate sponsorship, deregulation, competition, and the dismantling of teachers unions."

Along with Sondel's excellent overview, Public School Shakedown is publishing writing from Teach For America participants and alumni, as well as parents, activists, and school staff across the country, on the organization's impact in their communities.

The Teach For America Truth Squad is the latest effort by Public School Shakedown to expose the threat of school privatization, nationwide, and connect pro-public-school activists who want to defend this cornerstone of our democracy.

For more information, check out Public School Shakedown.

Photo: Flickr user Travis, creative commons licensed.

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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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