Is a Teachers’ Spring Coming?

The PISA scores are out and American students are ranking pretty low.  All who follow the corporate line are up in arms and blaming our educational system. For once they are right. Although American students have never scored high in these international tests, it only goes to show that the billions upon billions of dollars spent the last dozen years on testing, testing, testing, curriculum writing by non-teachers, privatization, charter schools, etc. have failed in their mission to remake our public school system for the better. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are abject failures, except for those who profited off all the snake oil that has been peddled by both parties.

There is a sea change in public education that could be the forerunner of a Teachers’ Spring.  Although ALEC, Gates, Rhee, and all other corporatist deformers of education have the upper hand and the mic, there’s a groundswell of anger and fierce determination among public school teachers and their advocates (parents, students, etc.) to reverse the narrative. We see this coalescing in the Badass Teachers Association, just recently opening in Canada and hopefully spreading.  Neo-liberalism is unfortunately not limited to the US and that is what has taken public education by the throat these past two decades or more.

BATS now number nearly 34,000 on Facebook, which only started this past summer. BATS are a mix of all political ideologies: progressives and real leftists, conservatives and Libertarians, Democrats and Republicans.  Although they may have different reasons for why they oppose the Common Core State Standards and all that accompanies them, the ultimate goals are well defined:  “BATs aim to reduce or eliminate the use of high stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom and work to include teacher and family voices in legislative decision-making processes that affect students.”

Peggy Robertson, one of the lead founders of Opt Out, has opened the flood gates for parents to have their children sit out of high stakes testing which often serves no purpose other than to enrich Pearson and other test makers. We see in the reaction a level of desperation rarely exhibited by the 1% with threats to parents with child abuse charges for opting their kids out of such tests, as was the case in Long Island, NY.

Where will this go? Will there be a public education revolution? The past two years saw the occupation of the Department of Education by the forerunners of the BATS (Opt Out) as well as the initial march and demonstration at the White House in July 2011 (Save Our Schools). Plans are in the works for a new national day of action in July 2014.  If tens of thousands were to show, the energy and synergy generated could be the true beginning of the end of the war against public education.

Myles Hoenig is a veteran of the Prince George's County Public School system in Maryland, USA. He's a long time activist for social justice. He lives in Baltimore. Read other articles by Myles.