School & District Management Opinion

Occupy Wall Street’s Goals and Public Education

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — January 17, 2012 5 min read
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(Part IV of V)

I have been getting many emails and comments about the last blog. Fewer people are asking about detailed demands for Occupy after my last blog. But several want more specifics. This blog focusses on some concrete ideas that organizations can demand. As mentioned in earlier emails, no one speaks for occupy; this list is compiled from positions that I have heard and would like to see.

Occupy and many long-standing movement groups are focused on building visions of fairness.

The goals below all can be fought for on the way to the larger societal changes - they are all steps on the way to treating all humans as equals. If these goals are pursued without compromise, they illustrate a reordering of priorities and significant increases in educational opportunity. None of them alone or even all of them together constitutes the scale of change that Occupy imagines. Many of these are taken from chants at Occupy marches.

1. Many children are frisked or forced to go through metal detectors on the way to school. This is not humane treatment. It is not the image of respectful schools we imagine. This is happening particularly in poor communities, especially communities of color. Many Occupiers demand an end to the “stop and frisk policies” in schools in the poorest communities.

2. My friend’s daughter comes home angry from high school many days. She goes to a well-funded public school, she does well, takes honors classes, gets A and B’s and is on sports teams and clubs. But she knows our schools were designed in the industrial era. Our school systems were designed, not only before social networking, but before Einstein and his theories of relativity and uncertainty principles. It’s a new game. She knows it. Do we? Many occupiers have the goal of creating a whole new education system and/or transforming our current system from its industrial age model. They imagine more collaborative approaches to education, more team work, less top-down and more student-up direct democracy in education. Many teachers are creating spaces in their classrooms and school for conversations about the economy and participatory democracy in schools - way beyond the student government that chooses the dance themes. Occupy calls on us to think beyond top-down policy solutions (not abandon them but think beyond). Many occupiers say we need to change how we administer education and what we are educating people for. Occupy offers us the opportunity to dare to change the way the whole of public education is done. Just as we must dare to reimagine our representational democracy and imagine direct democracy, we must dare to imagine democratic education. In future blogs, guest writers or I will likely explore these teacher and student-driven ideas further.

3. The highest performing countries provide all students access to substantive educational opportunities. Just as Occupy calls on us to reimagine the way our elections are financed, Occupy dares us to imagine how our schools are financed and institute federal and state investments in our children to:

Offer complete access to high quality early education;

Recruit and retain highly effective well paid teachers;

Ensure that every school district is able to provide college preparatory curricula for all;

Create tax and revenue structures to ensure fiscal equity in education; revise education funding so that funding is equally distributed like the most successful nations;

Provide the opportunity to go to college for all high school students who want to go -- without a burdening debt; and

Provide access to English learning for all who want to learn (currently there are long waiting lists for English learners of all ages).

4. Occupiers have voiced a specific ways to pay for these opportunities:

Repeal the Bush and Obama era tax cuts and put the new revenue in domestic priorities such as education, jobs, housing, etc. (70 percent of Americans agree we need to repeal the cuts; Demand that banks and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes so we can see fully fund schools instead of cutting teachers;

End the current US led wars in Afghanistan and Libya, stop funding the military contractors (mercenaries) in Iraq and close the 708 US military bases around the world. “Books not bombs” can be seen at many Occupy events

5. Family friendly economics - an economy for the 99 percent - many of Occupy’s voiced demands have included common sense fairness:

Bail out homeowners so children can stay in the schools where they are and learn instead of living with displacement;

• Institute a moratorium on home foreclosures;

Bail out college graduates instead of banks;

Regulate banks and corporations instead of limiting the right to collective bargaining for public employees like teachers; treat teachers as well paid honored public servants like the highest performing countries do;

Bring back a livable wage, the weekend and 8 hour work day so parents can be home with their children; implement regulations to control the unquenchable greed of an economic and political system that encourages the power-hungry to take larger and larger shares of the nation’s wealth;

Create better-paying jobs and government-funded jobs so parents can feed their children (1 out of 4 families lives with food insecurity);

Create single-payer universal healthcare so all children come to school healthy instead of insurance company executives becoming richer.

Many Occupiers have observed that our political leaders are protecting the needs of the 1%, their political donors instead of students; that our leaders are accountable to military contractors, oil and insurance companies and banks instead of being accountable to the 99% majority -- parents, students and teachers.

Occupy envisions a reordering of our priorities that is much larger than even closing all 708 US military bases and putting all the money into schools. Nonetheless, such a scale of change would be a symbol of the revolution in values that Occupy seeks.

What would be on your list of goals for Occupy? Let us know.(Note that our new home is at Daily Kos)

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