The attack on public school teachers has got to end.

Republican governors across the country are taking aim at teachers, their unions and public schools in general.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has been demonizing teachers, lambasting unions, challenging tenure rights and recommending a crude teacher evaluation process.

He is also a big proponent of a tuition voucher system that would permit any child in New Jersey to go to any school, public or private. And it would include state subsidies for some students already attending parochial schools and yeshivas.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget slashes school funding by $1.6 billion over the next two years, establishing many more charter schools (including so-called virtual charter schools, which have no buildings), and lifting the income cap for vouchers.

This attack on public education has diverse roots, and comes not only from Republicans. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform have dedicated substantial resources to undermining teachers unions. The Obama administration has put its weight behind an agenda featuring charter schools, which employ mostly nonunion labor, as its centerpiece.

A disturbing bipartisan consensus is emerging: a market model for public schools that would abandon America’s historic commitment to providing education to all children as a civil right.

This model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools. It would treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores. And it would unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with those who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

It’s hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and where those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts.

The market model for education fails to address the inequality and opportunity gaps that plague our schools. It is not an adequate solution; it is a diversion.

Fortunately, teachers and their allies are fighting back. We can begin to feel the rumble of solidarity, with parents, teachers, labor and youth demanding what is rightfully theirs — public schools and democratic public education.

Pedro Noguera, a professor of sociology at New York University, is the author of “City Schools and the American Dream.” Michelle Fine is a distinguished professor of psychology at City University of New York. They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

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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