Why I’m Going to D.C.

Two weeks from today I will be standing on a street-corner in our nation’s capitol giving a speech. That’s a strange place for an academic to be giving a talk, but this is no ordinary event. I’ve been asked to go to Washington D.C. to join public education advocates from all over the country for a four-day occupation of the sidewalk outside the U.S. Department of Education.

This “Occupy the D.O.E. 2.0” is essentially a national teach-in, with a different speaker every 20 minutes for four straight days. I’m honored to be sharing the microphone with the likes of education historian Diane Ravitch, Chicago teacher’s union president Karen Lewis, early childhood education expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige, filmmaker Brian Jones, education researcher Deborah Meier and many, many others. Pennsylvania will be in the spotlight the afternoon of Friday, April 5th, and I hope all of you from the keystone state will consider coming down for part, or all, of this significant event.

The occupation runs from April 4-7, 2013 and on Saturday, April 6, there will be an organized march to the White House. Organized for a second year in a row by the grassroots volunteers of United Opt Out National, the event promises to be a “gathering of progressive education activists endeavoring to resist the destructive influences of corporate and for-profit education reforms, which began in previous administrations and persist with the current one.” The planners explain, “We cannot and will not stand silent as the threats to dismantle our system of public education continue. These threats include the erosion of the teaching profession, excessive use of standardized testing, mandated scripted curriculum, the absolute disregard of child poverty, and reforms which disproportionately impact minority communities.”

Here’s my statement that is on the United Opt Out National homepage. I hope to see you there.

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I am coming to Washington D.C. to Occupy the Department of Education this April because our public schools in Pennsylvania have lost $2 BILLION these past two years. Draconian state budget cuts of this magnitude are only possible when people stop believing in public education as a public good. Too many in this country have been swayed by the national narrative of “failing public schools” and taken in by the false promises of the corporate-reform movement with its seductive rhetoric of competition, choice, and accountability. But the implementation of those ideas has meant widespread privatization and out of control high-stakes-testing, causing real harm to our students, our teachers, and our schools. And poor kids — and students of color, in particular — have been harmed the most.

Here in Pennsylvania, our students have lost nearly 20,000 of their teachers; they’ve lost music, art, library, foreign languages and even tutoring and Kindergarten programs; kids are in classrooms with 39 students; and they are spending more and more of their precious time on testing and test-prep. Meanwhile, some of the deepest pockets on the planet have been dumping millions of dollars into our state through superPACs to get voucher laws and other privatization policies passed; ALEC has been writing our state legislation; four of the state’s top donors to political campaigns this past fall had direct ties to charter schools; and school districts in five Pennsylvania cities are literally circling the drain, on the verge of total collapse.

But there is hope. A grassroots movement of volunteer parents, students, teachers, and community members has been fighting back, educating itself on the issues, reaching out to learn from and work with others, and connecting to groups all over the country. I am coming to Occupy the DOE because in studying the history of social movements I have come to understand that ordinary people, acting together, make real change happen. I am coming to Washington D.C. to stand on a street corner with all of you to shout, “Public education is a public good!”

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