In yesterday’s post, I outlined the beginning of a union response to Governor Cuomo’s latest battle in his war on New York’s teachers, proposing to primary or support third party candidates who support the governor’s proposed measures. There is much more to be done, however.
I remain convinced that most potent weapon we have against those who would reform public education out of existence is non-compliance with their reforms. To paraphrase the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia, we have to stop doing stupid things simply because we are told to do them. Central to this resistance is the opt-out movement, strong in New York and very strong here on Long Island. Last year, 22,000 Long Island children opted-out of the state tests. We must double that number at the very least this year, with the ultimate goal of more children opting-out than taking the examinations. We need to do everything we can to allay parent fears about withholding their children from the exams, counteracting the all too familiar pressure from cowardly administrators who fearfully toe the state line.
We need to recruit and run candidates for boards of education who are willing to challenge Albany, men and women who will not be cowed into doing stupid things for fear of being removed from office. We need board members who will demand an end to the stultifying teaching to the state tests that is eroding the quality of education in our best districts. We need board members who seek out educational leaders, not enforcers of rules and regulations that thwart children’s joy in learning and stifle the creativity of teachers who increasingly yearn for the freedom to practice their craft. We need board members who understand the difference between education and job preparation.
Teachers need to organize through their unions to resist the stupid too. They need to be encouraged to practice their craft as what the late Neil Postman once referred to as a “subversive activity,” imaginatively undermining every attempt to routinize their instruction and rob them of their craft. They need to take all steps necessary to ensure that their efforts are contributing to the intellectual and ethical growth and development of the citizenry of our nation, not training individuals for the job market. They need to be teachers again, not facilitators, not trainers, not mindless conductors of canned programs.
Those who cling to the belief that public schools are vital to the preservation of our nation as we have known and loved it must stand strong and resist attempts to dismantle it in preference for a corporate owned and controlled system designed to train the work force, not citizens of a vibrant, democratic society. We need to organize folks who are proud to be subversives for public education.