Early Childhood Opinion

The International Occupy Movement and Public Education

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — November 18, 2011 3 min read
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After my mother graduated from high school in the mid 1940s, she went to Queens College in New York City, which was practically free back then. Tuition was without charge. All she paid for was her books. She left college with no debt and was able to build a successful self-sustaining life. The Occupy Movement -- from Wall Street to Oakland, CA to the growing political youth movement in Chile -- is demanding the same opportunity that my mother and many in the US once took for granted.

Here, Occupy Wall Street is raising critical issues and exposing how our education system reflects larger economic inequalities. Looking internationally, we have great lessons to be learned from students around the world who are similarly mad at how some of the 1 percent of super wealthy exert excessive control over politics, university fees and the economy that all 100 percent live in. From students in Chile we can learn both policy reforms and action strategies.

In this first series of blogs, I will begin by developing a conversation about how education problems mirror the money-making system. I will highlight those who are working to change this economic arrangement and opportunities for education and movement leadership. I will point to past successes and discuss ideas that have emerged about where we can go from here.

It is an honor to write my first Education Week blog at this moment in history. I have been working on issues of educational excellence and fairness for almost 30 years. I have been a high school English Department head in Colombia, South America, a resource specialist training adult literacy teachers at Roxbury Community College, Massachusetts, a public school parent, and I served on our Governor’s Readiness Task Force. I’ve worked with the Institute for Student Achievement scaling up incredibly successful public high school programs and have worked on systemic policy and organizing with the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

I have witnessed many improvements in our education system. But in the early 1980s many of the opportunities for quality education were undermined and now have been cut back mightily... I watched talented teachers being laid off due to curtailed funding in the highest need communities in the late ‘80s. Today a new awareness of the lack of opportunities for the 99 percent is becoming clearer -- from decreased preschool opportunities, to the lack of money to train teachers, to burgeoning student debt. At times in our nation’s history, when public will has determined that we do so, we have succeeded in decreasing the opportunity gap and the achievement gap. We can do it again in new and bolder ways.

The public conversation that has emerged due to inadequate opportunities, the Occupy movement, and Egypt’s peaceful “Arab Spring” all inspire hope. The conversation is exposing who is served by our profit-oriented economic structure and who is not. And now we have an opportunity to explore how we design our economy, educational, and political systems so they serve the good of the 99 percent instead of the profit of the 1 percent. It is a chance to dream and connect those dreams to our current realities. Is our education (and economic) system to be designed to serve the elite, or is it a public system? Who decides? Who drives change? Who controls?

The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and students in Chile are challenging some assumptions that have taken hold over the last 20 to 30 years. Chilean students are echoing the demands of U.S. students, and vice-versa. It is not too big to dream that we can have more than my mother had when she went to college 50 years ago.

Democracy and Education is a new blog that will engage authors and readers in these and other issues to nourish the discussion about achieving that dream:

• What we in the U.S. can learn from the Chilean student struggle;
• Some background history on Chile;
• The Occupy movement, charters and public schools;
• How the highest performing countries learn from US educators and what we can learn from them;
• Transactional public school reform and Egyptian style transformative change;
• How educators can make a difference in curriculum, leadership and evaluation; what is our role in history;
• The ABCs and art of transformative social change.

A blog has the potential to create an online community that is more knowledgeable than any single writer. We welcome your comments, ideas, experience, thoughts and questions.

(Note that our new home is at Daily Kos)

The opinions expressed in Democracy and Education 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.