Federal Opinion

Reflections on the March on Washington, July 30, 2011

By Diane Ravitch — September 06, 2011 3 min read
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Editor’s note: Bridging Differences resumes its regular Tuesday-Thursday publication schedule today.

Dear Deborah,

Well, we certainly had an eventful summer! The high point for me, as it may have been for you, was the SOS (Save Our Schools) march on July 30 in Washington, D.C. I had the great pleasure of following you in the line-up, and then being followed by Matt Damon. Matt took an overnight flight from Vancouver, where he was making a film. He was introduced by his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, who is a professor of early-childhood education at Lesley University, and a great champion of children. A friend later said to me, “Did you ever imagine you would be on the same platform with Matt Damon?” Of course, I never imagined such a thing. Even at my age, I was star-struck.

But then, I never imagined an event where I would get to meet face to face with so many of the education activists—teachers and parents—with whom I had corresponded or whom I knew only from Twitter. Each of them is a champion in their own community or city, and each of them has heroically stood up against those who want to stigmatize teachers and public education. I was so proud to be there with these tireless, fearless leaders.

Before the event, reporters kept asking me whether it was a stealth union operation, and I assured them it was not. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers contributed a token amount, but the fundraising and the organization were entirely in the hands of a large and diverse group of teachers and parents.

If the unions had been in charge, there would not have been so many days of fundraising in which the target was $2,500, and there would have been a professional public-relations campaign. Some major news media outlets said after the event that they knew nothing about it. The SOS march was truly led by people from the grassroots and directed by National Board Certified-teachers and others who share their passion for public education. The total cost of the two-day event (something over $100,000, which took a year to raise) would have been like a rounding error at the big foundations or the U.S. Department of Education.

It was a historic weekend. I know of no other time in our history when thousands of teachers and parents massed on the Mall in Washington to protest misguided federal policies and to demand changes that will truly improve education and help children learn.

Picture the day: It was blazing hot, probably close to 100 degrees, and very humid. Teachers and parents were sitting or standing, and many carried handmade signs expressing their feelings about high-stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, the Race to the Top, and privatization. Considering the dreadful heat, everyone was incredibly patient. The audience responded enthusiastically to the songs, poems, and speeches (none of which was long, thank goodness). Backstage, Matt Damon was swarmed by media, each of whom wanted to interview him. (One of his interviews went viral, when a camera crew from a libertarian group tried to persuade him that teachers need incentive pay.

To no one’s surprise, you were terrific.

I followed you.

And, introduced by his wonderful mother, Matt capped the day with his terrific speech.

Dear reader, understand that none of the videos was filmed by a professional videographer. But I hope you will get a sense of the excitement of the day.

My hope is that the events of July 29 (workshops) and July 30 (the rally and march) will get the attention of our nation’s policymakers and will give heart to teachers and parents who long for a far, far better vision of what education should be.


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.