Over the past nineteen days we have witnessed a remarkable movement emerge. First in New York City, on Wall Street, and now in cities across the country, young people have taken to the streets to protest the way their futures have been hijacked by decisions made far beyond them. I am with them 100%.
I am with them because I have two sons, now in college, who have a very unclear future. Some 85% of 2011’s college graduates are now back home living with their parents, with substantial debt. Every time I see my older son, Alex, we discuss his concern for the environment. Last week he shared a paper he was writing for a college English class he is taking. Like many of those protesting, he is asking tough questions about his own education and life path. He wrote,
Most of the time I think that the learning which most students do for the purpose of getting a degree to get a job in order to survive, is a wasteful, destructive path that most people are brainwashed into walking. As the expression goes, monkey see monkey do, and most people only base their actions on what they have seen or heard other people do; instead of trying new things. When we have the largest most powerful countries in the world not abiding by all ethical codes of conduct; we see huge problems of poverty, war, and destruction to the environment....
When I look at the images and read about these protestors, I see not only my sons, but our students. What world are they inheriting? What values are guiding the decisions that are made? How can it be that we, as a society, bailed out the banks yet left millions of individual homeowners completely underwater on their mortgages? How can it be that as the top one percent accumulates ever more wealth, we are told we are “broke” when it comes time to fund our schools, and the pensions of those of us who work there? How can we continue to pay billions of dollars for endless wars, when we cannot fund the education of the next generation?
The core question the protestors raise is one of values. What do we, as a society, prize above all? This is also at the core of the deepening battle over the future of our schools. We have told a generation of students that if they pass their tests and graduate from college, they will find prosperity and meaning for their lives. But as they graduate and try to live out this promise, they find it empty. Now, as our students graduate with little to show for their work beyond a scrap of sheepskin and a pile of debt, society’s bluff has been called.
Our public schools are endangered by the policies and laws that are being enacted across the nation. Within the past year, we have seen teachers lose the right to collectively bargain in Wisconsin, and in many states we are seeing laws enacted tying teacher pay and evaluations to test scores. Laws that expand vouchers and charter schools are likewise being passed, and on the national level, many elements of Race to the Top are being introduced as Congress moves to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. As this guest post explained earlier this week, corporations have an oversized influence on these laws. Solid research and expertise of classroom teachers and parents has been pushed aside. Our political system has been fundamentally corrupted by the power of money, made even more extreme by the Citizens United case, which defines corporations as people with free speech rights.When our political system is broken, direct action, even civil disobedience is called for. The protests in New York and cities around the country are raising fundamental questions about our priorities and the way decisions have been made in recent years. I say it is about time.
What do you think about the movement spawned by the occupation of Wall Street?
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