There has been talk among the Badass Teachers Association about organizing a mass action in Washington D.C. Mark Naison, one of the founders of BAT, asked for suggestions on what we would demand if we were to mobilize like this. I’m writing this post to share my suggestions.
Mark proposed the following:
1. End Race to the Top and eliminate all financial incentives to states and localities to use student test scores to rate teachers, close allegedly “failing” schools, and prefer charter schools over public schools.
2. End Federal support of the Common Core standards, and leave the decision of whether to use them to states and localities without pressure from the US Dept of Education.
3. Use federal funds currently directed towards testing and data collection to lower class size and fund libraries, school counselors and the arts
4. Remove the current Secretary of Education and replace him with a lifetime educator who has at least 10 years classroom experience
5. Call a White House Conference on Education where 50 percent of the participants are teachers, and the rest administrators, parents and students.
I like some of these, especially 1-4. However, I think they are still within the framework of defending public education from corporate education reformers. While this is important, I don’t think it’s enough. I think we also need to organize to transform public education ourselves. With that in mind, I’d like to propose we also make demands like this on the federal government:
- Let’s demand that congress peg prison funding to eduction funding, so that every time they increase funds for prisons they must increase funds for education, and every time they cut funds for education, they must also cut funds for prisons. Let’s follow up to make sure this is not co-opted by making sure our schools themselves do not function as prison pipelines, which means positive behavior interventions instead of surveillance, cops, isolation rooms, etc.
- Let’s demand that federal regulations require all employers to give family members of school aged children paid time off to support their kids’ education. This could look like volunteering in the classroom, becoming active in setting school policies, and especially intervening when kids are in crisis, as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions.
- Let’s demand that Congress repeal any legal limitations that prevent collective action on the job or that limit collective action to issues of wages of benefits alone. In particular, remove any limitations of labor law that would prevent teachers, parents, and students from controlling hiring and firing of teachers, curriculum development and adoption, and school policies. Repeal the Taft Hartley Act and other anti-labor laws.
These demands might help us cultivate a unified teacher-parent-student movement; they might help us prevent a situation where teachers are treated as simply another special interest group in competition with other groups. Let’s make it clear: we are badass workers, and an injury to one is an injury to all.
To even come close to winning demands like this, we’d need to engage in a mass struggle that breaks from scripted, predictable forms of protest and pushes the limits, just like the Mexican teachers are doing. As Jim Horn asks,
How much abuse, derogation, impugning, hostility, and professional savaging will it take for American teachers to respond like those in Mexico, where teachers have been engaged in civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale during the past week.
What do you think of the demand I suggested? What would you be wiling to fight for? What kind of strategies and tactics do you think we’d need to engage in to creatively transform learning and teaching?