Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

RuthOn July 7th, our newest member to DEY’s National Advisory Board, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, made the following speech at the First Focus Summit that was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Today we are honored to share her powerful words, with permission from Rodriguez-Fay.

 

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

Ruth Rodriguez-Fay  ~ Diversity Adviser of Save Our Schools

“If you don’t understand the journey of those you serve, you cannot be an advocate for justice.” – Mary Bacon

 

Mary’s quote above is essential to this presentation that I have been honored to share today.  It is critical because of the present day infusion of Corporate America into the design and construct of our public schools.  It is also more so, because those who have set their goal into restructuring our public schools have chosen to isolate certified educators, child development experts and families whose stakes are high in ensuring our children success. Instead, we have everyone from billionaires, hedge funds moguls, real estate investors positioning themselves as the saviors of what they have come to label as “failing” schools.  They have used their $$power to influence legislators into passing an education reform that goes against what we educators have been trained to do.  The disrespect to the teaching profession, especially those of us educators of color, has been unprecedented. No other profession has received such attacks as teachers have, such blatant attacks by non-educators on our ability to do what we have spent our lifetime career mastering.

The Billionaires and hedge funds moguls have waged a war against public education, especially harmful to communities of color, never seen since a century ago, when a similar attempt by Corporate was made. The nation’s largest lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), looking for profit ventures for their investors, determined that public education was a multi-trillion investment opportunity just waiting to be tapped; and they wasted little time to begin to concoct a business-model, profit-making endeavor masquerading as education reform with business, factory-style measure, one that these bandits will never consider subjecting their own children.  My friend, today’s leading respected civil rights advocate, Rose Saunders, almost brought me to tears when she declared that, “this is the worst war ever fought on American soil, for neither the civil war, nor the war for civil rights can compare, for the casualties of this war are our precious children.”

I was hopeful when Governor Deval Patrick of MA announced his Readiness Project, seeking advice on his education policies.  I was honored to serve on his Massachusetts Comprehensive and Assessment System (MCAS) and Assessment initiative, hoping to have the opportunity to present an alternative to the damaging high-stake test forced upon all the children, one that had killed the dreams of so many children who were denied a high school diploma based on this single test.  Learning that our alternative recommendations were denied, and the state would continue with the MCAS, I confronted the Governor at his event at Framingham State University, in an audience of over 300 people, I said face to face, “Governor, I thank you for giving the opportunity to serve in your Readiness Project on MCAS and Assessment.  I am saddened that you did not accept our recommendation for alternative form of assessment, and have made the decision to continue the harmful test.  But, I challenge anyone in this room, including you Governor, to immerse yourself in Spanish for one year, then take the test in Spanish, for that Governor, is what you are asking English language learners to do.” One year of English immersion was all that former Governor Mitt Romney believed English language learners needed to compete with their English speaking counterparts; as a result, MA has continued to demand that all students must take the test, and if they fail, they do not receive a diploma.  That night Governor Patrick promised that he will look into this and pointed me to one of his staff. Unfortunately, MA English language learners still are subjected to the test!

Let us look at how one goes about privatizing public education?  First, you manufacture a crisis and instill public fear.  We saw in the Hollywood propaganda, Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, where teachers were blamed for everything that is wrong in the country, and posed schools and the students as “failures”, who needed to be rescued, this time by a business-style intervention.  Create a rallying cry for the need to save citizens from an imminent danger, and only they can provide the relief, in this case, since teachers are the problem, they will provide immediate relieve through their profit-making endeavor, known as Teach for America.  These are recent young college graduates, (no need to have an education degree, only agree not to join the teacher’s union), who will receive 5 weeks of training where they are advised never to associate with union, certified teachers.  These teaching interns are replacing certified, union teachers with years of experience, then are placed in the school districts with majority Black and Latino student populations. They fit right in with the Charter Schools Enterprise, who enjoy the hiring of non-union, and many non-certified teachers.  You then create a system which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is done through the enforcement of a high stake test that is used to deny student’s promotion and graduation, evaluate teachers based on student’s test scores, then when a school reaches the level of failing based on the test, then they come in with the claim that since schools are failing they are the only ones that can save them.

I have a challenge understanding how these profiteers positioned themselves as the savior of a system that they created.  Remember when the Bush administration went to bomb Iraq?  The campaign prior to the bombing was filled with lies about weapons of mass destruction, how we were going to save the people of Iraq from their evil leaders.  Then, after destroying the country, our government came back to the people saying that our tax dollars will be used to give Chaney’s Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair what they broke.  It is the same playbook they are using in education, create the conditions for failure until the system is broken, then claim that they alone can fix it.  In order to fix what they broke, they use an appealing language, like “innovation”, “reform,” and their favorite, “choice.”  What we have come to understand about “choice,” is that the choice is only for the profiteers not the families of children with special needs nor the English language learners.

Another form used is to deflect the truths with dog-whistle propaganda, glossy presentations that disguise the real ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.” Once the propaganda is solidified, that is when ALEC came in.  ALEC, with funding from Bill Gates, were the mastermind behind the Common Core, who were able to forge alliances with big business and state legislators.  Another brilliance of the profiteers was to buy off both major political parties, as we now know that both Republicans and Democrats have drunk the Corporate education reform cool-aid. This was done through the creation of legislation that politically and financially benefited the stake holders in this case the Billionaires and Wall Street investors and the politicians. They also use the tactic of laundering the policies through a number of non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy, where the origins are not easily traced.

These are the same “stake holders,” comprised of corporations who are managing charter schools and online schools and other “options” in the place of the “failing schools.” Deals are made with textbook and testing companies that schools must use, generating billions of profits for these companies, while public schools languish from lack of resources, such resources that otherwise schools could spend hiring teachers to reduce class size, or provide essential needed materials.

Charter schools claims to be the solution for the failing schools, have been shown to do no better than the schools they rob the resources from, and many have established policies that “counsel-out” students that they fear will not pass the test, and the public school from where those students come, must take them back.  They traditionally do not take high leveled special need students, nor English language learners.

Now, I want to end with this food for thought: The Common Core was designed with little to none expert educator or child development advice.  When, the President announced its early education initiative, many of us were hopeful that our Black and Latino young children will benefit from early intervention.  But, as we read the wording and began to understand what was involved, it became clear that “test and punish” was now being imposed on children who were 4 and 5 years old. To her dismay, my friend Nancy Carlsson Page, Professor of early education at Lesley University expressed her disdain, as she told me, “for now we have 4 and 5-year-olds, who should be spending their time in play activities, learning about their environment and socializing as well as developing a love for learning, forced to spend the better time of the school year prepping for a single test, a test that has been shown to be harmful and abusive to children.”

Forward together. Not one step back.

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Our fight for public education is only good if we fight for social justice. – Denisha Jones, SOS, United Opt Out, BATs, DEY, Howard University

Closing schools is a hate crime. – Irene Robinson, Dyett Hunger Strike

When you undermine the dreams of the children, you undermine the future.- Rev. Barber II

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. – Tanaisa Brown, student organizer from Chicago (quoting a Chinese proverb)

Even if we don’t succeed in righting the moral wrong, the children have to see us trying. – Rev. Barber II

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The BATs swarmed in – ready to march!

My head and heart are spinning as I reflect on the overwhelming weekend in Washington D.C. – the Peoples March and Rally on Friday, the Save Our Schools Coalition for Action conference at Howard University on Saturday, and the organizing meeting on Sunday morning. Folks came from all over the country–Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, New York, Florida, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Connecticut and more.

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Jitu Brown ‘s keynote at Howard University

The rally began on the Friday morning – as the news of the Dallas police shootings was still emerging.  As the weekend unfolded, one thing became crystal clear.  Our work to bring well-funded, high-quality schools to every neighborhood is inextricably connected to social justice, economic inequality, poverty, and racism. We can not work in silos in our efforts to reclaim public schools. Jitu Brown, the National Director for the Journey for Justice Alliance explained that we are working on many of the symptoms of the problem but we are not working on the root of the problem. “The virus is white supremacy.” And he is so right. Our country’s historic and systemic racism and the inter-generational trauma that it imposes on people of color – including the white supremacy of corporate capitalism – is the beast that we have to confront and push back against. That is the work of white people in our country today.

IMG_4690For DEY it means expanding our work on poverty, which has the greatest impact on the youngest children. And continuing our work on the growing issue of preschool and kindergarten suspensions – which overwhelmingly effect young black and brown boys. It means more white people must stop talking and begin listening to people of color. It also means getting more involved in local elections to help shift the power.  For me, personally, it will also involve having intentional conversations about this with my white colleagues (other teachers). And in my home, it is having honest conversations about all of this with my two sons – 12-year-old white males.

This year, the Save Our Schools Coalition weekend was set up so that children were invited and involved. And it was a brilliant move on the part of the organizers. Students as young as 12 spoke at the rally and presented at the conference.(You must check out Asean Johnson from the Chicago Student Union on this video) High school students from Boston shared how they expertly organized student walkouts to protest budget cuts and how they are helping the campaign in Massachusetts to #KeeptheCap on charter schools. Even younger children marched, listened, made signs, sang, and inspired us. They are the future and they keep us grounded. They are watching, listening, and learning. And as Rev. Barber II said, if we don’t succeed, “the children have to see us trying.” Amen.

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Student organizers from Boston Public Schools present at Howard University

For those of you who could not make it to DC, please know that the speeches from Friday and many of the sessions from the conference were live streamed and are available to view on schoolhouselive.org. For me, to have shared the stage with the likes of Rev. Barber II, Jitu Brown, Jesse Hagopian, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Asean Johnson, Irene Robinson, the DC Labor Chorus and so many more on such an historic weekend is something I will never forget. Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol were there, as well. They are all champions for the cause.

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Diane Ravitch addresses the crowd

Forward together. Not one step back.

#BlackLivesMatter #PeoplesMarch16

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

DEY Co-Director/teacher/mother

 

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DEY’s Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin and Denisha Jones address the crowd. You can hear DEY, and everyone, here at schoolhouselive.org . Photo credit Susan Ochshorn.

 

July Update

Dear Friends of DEY,

Many good things have been happening at DEY – and I wanted to take this opportunity update you on where we are heading:

  • Our survey closed out on July 15th and we will use the data to prepare a report to be released widely by mid-September.
  • This summer we are working on drafting the early childhood platform for Save Our Schools. The Save Our Schools People’s Education Convention in Washington D.C. will feature  DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige who will be delivering a keynote address. Our other Senior Adviser, Diane Levin will be presenting a workshop along with Nancy titled, Early Childhood Teachers Speak Out and Organize.  For more information about the SOS Conference go to:  www.saveourschoolsmarch.org

Looking ahead:

  • Defending the Early Years will be a presence at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Atlanta this November. Diane Levin has had a session accepted (Beyond Remote Control Teaching and Learning) that can help us spread the work of DEY.  If you are planning to attend the Annual Conference, be sure to look for us there!

One more thing:

In New York City last month, parents, teachers, students and scholars protested Pearson, Inc.’s role in the strangling testing regimen.  Here is the link to the ten minute video documenting that protest:Pearson protest.

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director