School & District Management Opinion

Who Do We Ally With?

By Deborah Meier — May 01, 2014 4 min read
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Deborah Meier’s conversation with Mike Klonsky continues today.

Dear Mike,

You’re right. I’m wrong. Blogs should be short and sweet (or nasty). I see I’ve corrupted your style with mine. (This refers, readers, to a phone conversation Mike and I had about the proper form of blogging, which I have a hard time with.)

So, I woke up this morning and tossed out my thoughtful original response, and here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head alternate reaction, written after reading the latest issue of Education Week (which sponsors this dialogue).

The rapidity with which so-called school reform is moving—without any democratic input, much less input from those who are most affected—is indeed scary! There’s not even some phony rhetoric about democracy anymore. And its “job preparation” jargon is completely phony as well. There aren’t enough good paying jobs for the currently “well-schooled,” regardless of their academic majors. To keep wages from slipping back further (as profits move up) we’re watching our democracy slip backward as well. It’s truly a “counter-revolution” we’re witnessing—with changes undertaken that will be hard to reverse.

Of late, teaching is not a field I’m comfortable seeing my grandchildren or their friends entering. But ... that’s too hard for me to acknowledge. But, in fact, more than teaching is at stake. So. How do we fight them?

I’m for making every damned coalition necessary—even if it means switching allies now and then—to slow this down. And that means simultaneously building a movement on behalf of education of, by, and for democracy.

We are growing a generation that has perhaps never “tasted” democracy in any form, or witnessed it except as a game of “perception"—news bites, sleights of hand, dirty tricks, dependent upon $$$$$$.

The worries I have about my own hypocrisies (the topic of my first blog draft) —is choice merely a way for me to openly practice my political (democratic) beliefs in relative freedom from bureaucratic interference—seem petty in comparison. Would I be willing to truly treat our schooling on local decision-making if ... if ... it meant corporal punishment? Creationism becomes moot if current “reforms” become the norm.

And we’re not alone. To what extent do doctors under contemporary insurance schemes truly practice what they know to be the best medicine? To what extent is medicine (both doctors and drugs) “delivered” for profit, not for health?

What compromises must we make at this crucial juncture to stop this train wreck from destroying everything we built over the past century, plus years of struggle for democracy? How easily we’ve dispensed with labor unions in a mere few decades and the idea of collective bargaining—surely an essential element of democracy in practice. Public schools seemed a sure-fire commonly revered part of our culture, just a short time ago. Now, they are one option—and a weak one—among many, and teachers and schools of education are openly and frankly driven not by the demands of professional knowledge but by business “expertise.”

Money, money, money rules. By using a mere few minutes of their earnings some people can outspend what you and I can by donating our whole year’s income. Truly, next fall’s election might be “it” for us.

Am I exaggerating? Is it closer to 1932 in Germany than I’m wont to think?

So, while one part of me wants to put forth a realistic solution to producing strongly democratic schooling, another part is preparing to meet the challenge with every means at our disposal, including conversations with local fundamentalists whose views I/we have also strong reasons to reject, oppose, and despise. It’s not unthinkable.

Is there a wing of such “right wing-ism” that can be appealed to on behalf of preserving a less-than-totalitarian society in which money and only money rules—who are equally afraid of an oligarchy of the 1 percent-ers, even the .01 percent-ers?

We need think tanks beyond educators to treat these topics as emergencies.

Throw away the first draft I sent you, Mike. I’ll publish that another time. Yes, the issues I raise about my own hypocrisies when it comes to democracy and choice are worth disclosing. But, you remind me we are faced with a moment in history when opportunities for speaking out truthfully may be closing as well. Even those most treasured places where humans meet in private and personal ways are disappearing.

So. What should be our major demands, and major counter-proposals? (After all, we’re not proposing that we stick with the old status quo.) And who might be our allies for one, two, or three of these—where we might start to push back? And how can we unite rather than divide our allies—so as not to splinter into a million sects? (Sound familiar?)

I’m not suggesting that you and I invent these demands/proposals from scratch. But, as you look around, what seem to you to be the places we’d best start to unite, even with folks we don’t always agree with? We can’t rest on trying to convert those not yet on our side; we need a more efficient, faster route at this time in our history. We need a strategy for welcoming even partial allies.

Maybe I’ll wake up feeling more sanguine tomorrow.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences 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.