Education Opinion

From Facebook to YouTube: A Teacher Movement is Born

By Anthony Cody — April 03, 2010 6 min read
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Teachers are finally learning how to organize. It took some intense provocation, because we do not rile easily. But from Florida to Fremont High School in Los Angeles, teachers are doing what it takes to be heard. And this is not your mother’s protest movement. Teacher protest is alive in the digital age, and we are using the latest tools of the times.

Facebook has emerged as a tremendously powerful vehicle for organizing. I discovered this myself when I posted my open letter to President Obama last November. I created a Facebook group, Teachers’ Letters to Obama, the same day. Within a few weeks it had 600 members, and now has more than 1,500. We used the group to collect more than 100 letters to send to Obama and Duncan, and have been actively discussing solutions to the challenges we face, and galvanizing further activism by our members, getting them to write letters to Congress and other policymakers.

One of our early members was Jesse Turner, who wrote of walking in his cold apartment as a child to stay warm, and pledged to walk to Washington, DC, this summer, to protest NCLB and Race to the Top. Inspired anew by the March 4 protests, Jesse launched his own Facebook group, Children are more than test scores, to inform and activate others. In less than a month he has attracted more than 4,250 members.

Another blogger, California teacher Sarah Puglisi, posted a list of her own 100 National Standards a few weeks ago. Here are a few random examples:

  • 6. All children should know nature, value nature, interact within nature, and be in families that have some capacity to do the same.
  • 19. All children should have adults that can cooperate, hear one another, resolve conflict, have the capacity to demonstrate love, attention, concern, solutions, turn taking, deference.
  • 27. All children should enter school believing and maintaining as long as possible a joy in learning, and a belief in self as not “behind”, not labeled, not seen as less.
  • 63. All children should have bandaids, both the real thing and the metaphorical kind. To heal.

Her post has generated a Facebook group “I bet we can get 1,000,000 teachers to adopt these standards.”

Why has Facebook emerged as such a powerful vehicle?
First of all, most teachers are women, and according to this report from istrategy labs, at least 54% of Facebook users are female, and the largest age group is 35 to to 54 year olds. Facebook membership has more than doubled in the past year, and more than 100 million Americans are registered users. Facebook allows you to set up a group, host discussions, and share links and videos. You can even announce a protest, invite people to attend, and track who says they will come. But the best thing about it is that since this is a social platform, posts can permeate into our everyday social scene, so amidst the flurry of news from friends like “I just popped some popcorn and am going to watch Casablanca” we can get posts with the latest news about teachers protesting in Florida, or an invitation to write our congressperson about ESEA. And since so many people belong, it is possible for important news to spread virally outward.

Florida teachers are also using Facebook very creatively. The group Stop Senate Bill 6 -- actually started by concerned parents, now has about 22,000 fans, and is a hub of organizing activity for parents and teachers in the state. And the teachers are taking their message to the Facebook pages of their representatives as well. A visit to the Republican Senate Majority Office Facebook page reveals scores of notes from angry teachers raising serious questions about the future of education should this law pass.

Another outlet for teacher voices have been the blogs. I have used my blog to spread word about the movement to save Fremont High School from a draconian reconstitution. A group I helped found a couple of years ago, Accomplished California Teachers, has launched a new group blog, InterAct, which is carrying provocative perspectives from leading California teachers. And the Teacher Leaders Network, to which I belong, has a strong group of teacher bloggers with great things to say.

Art teacher Rian Fike has used his diary on the Daily Kos to share news of the teacher movement against Senate Bill 6. Because of him, I saw these great YouTube videos of teachers confronting Republican governor Charlie Crist, pressuring him to veto the bill. This is a great example of effective dialogue with our representatives. The teachers are passionate, on point, and united.

YouTube is another tool teachers are beginning to use effectively. Jesse Turner has launched a project to have teachers, parents and students post messages about NCLB and Race to the Top by June 14th - Flag Day, as a patriotic and democratic protest. He has used Facebook to create the organizing group, and the videos will be posted to Youtube.

I still believe the most powerful ways we can confront injustice are the ones we have always used, but these new tools can serve to amplify and build these methods.
Jesse Turner will walk in protest as did many civil rights marchers decades ago. But because of Facebook many more will know of his march and have a chance to witness it, support and even join him as he walks. The teachers at Fremont High School are doing good old fashioned community organizing to rally parents, students and community members to support their school -- but we know about it because they are willing to share their story on my blog. Teachers speak truth to power as the Florida teachers did last month, but many more of us can be inspired thanks to videos posted to YouTube, and bloggers like Rian Fike.

After eight long years of No Child Left Behind, teachers are finally getting organized. It will take some real determination, clarity and action to overcome the misinformation that now dominates education policy. But teachers are showing we know how to use the tools at our disposal, and we will use them to be heard.

Update #1: Rian Fike has posted again on the Daily Kos. He writes:

We caught wind of the bill three weeks ago. Our unions made sure we understood the dire situation. We took the ball and we went supersonic. Facebook groups gained thousands of members per day, and then we met together in person to protest. We got our cause on the local news in over 30 different cities. We followed the money trail to the Council of 100. We found out that Publix Supermarkets and Office Depot were part of the plot. We are waiting for a clarification of their position, since they immediately began backpedaling. If the bill is forced through and signed by Governor Crist, we will organize massive boycotts.

Update #2: Los Angeles teacher Jose Lara has just posted a YouTube video sharing teacher perspectives on their fight to save Fremont High from reconstitution.

Update #3: Parents and teachers in Palm Beach, Florida, really led the way with their Facebook group, Testing is Not Teaching, which has been used for the past eight months to organize their movement to stop the District’s over-reliance on standardized tests and scripted curriculum. Once again, parents together with teachers are a force to be reckoned with!

Update #4: Daily Kos blogger and Florida Art teacher Rian Fike is back with another report: Florida Teachers are a Force: traction against the Jeb Bush machine.

The bill that was headed straight into law has galvanized a whole new voting block that will need to be honored in November and forevermore. We are so powerful at this point that Jeb Bush has started robocalls against us. We are turning Charlie Crist toward a veto, which obviously will be a big swing for the Fl-Sen seat. Check out Crist's reason for the turnaround.

“Shame on any public servant who doesn’t listen to the people.’'

Update #5:
Florida Governor Charlie Crist has indicated today that he wants lawmakers to accept amendments offered by supporters of teachers before he will sign Senate Bill 6. Teacher protests are having a real impact!

When I read that, I just about lost my lunch. Why? Because I had spoken the exact same sentence to his secretary the day before.

Update #6: Friday, April 9: Florida teachers and students need us! Governor Crist’s veto is the only thing that will keep Senate Bill 6 from becoming law. I just sent a fax. Call his office at 850-907-1218. Fax his office at 850-487-0801 or 850-907-1219. Please tell him to VETO SB6/HB7189.

What do you think? Are we using the right tools to get our voices heard? Are there other ways we can have influence over the future of our schools?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.