Standards Opinion

Thoughts From a Sit-In

By Guest Blogger — May 20, 2014 4 min read
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Author and advocate Mike Klonsky again writes to Deborah Meier today. The two are currently co-blogging on Bridging Differences.

“Sixty years later, ‘separate and unequal’ is still alive ... privatizing our school systems results in increased segregation, not improved opportunities.” - Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile.


I think that, for both of us, the current struggle goes way beyond testing and common-core issues. I’m reminded of this as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Related to this, one of the points we touched on in earlier exchanges was the connection between school and community. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I probably put more emphasis on the strategic importance of school/community partnerships, while you see them primarily as forcing necessary but risky compromises upon schools and teachers. I also think you have a much gloomier perspective than I do on current possibilities. Maybe these two differences are related.

As you point out, my perspective may be tilted toward things large and urban. I was considering that on Friday as I was sitting-in with parents and supporters at Gresham Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side. The occupation was in protest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempt to close the school, fire the entire faculty teachers and staff, and turn the school over to a private management company.

This practice has become a central piece of school district policy in a city where the mayor controls the schools and his top-down approach to school reform led to the closing of 50 schools this year, nearly all in poor and African-American neighborhoods. That policy, combined with the wild expansion of privately-run charters, has parents and community residents up in arms, with protests like this becoming commonplace. There’s even a principals’ revolt bubbling up from the schools.

Significantly, the sit-in at Gresham coincided with the anniversary of the Brown decision, a point not lost on the parent occupiers. The struggle in the cities, while certainly connected to testing and curriculum (common core), has been focused on equity. When community organizer Jitu Brown spoke with the occupying Gresham parents about the connection of their struggle to the 1954 Court decision, they all nodded and spoke out in agreement. If classroom, curricular, and testing issues aren’t situated in that context, they make no sense to people like the parents I was with Friday night.

Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile made a point that’s been missing from current administration policy: “Sixty years later, ‘separate and unequal’ is still alive ... privatizing our school systems results in increased segregation, not improved opportunities.”

Building on this same theme, I’m particularly buoyed by Ras Baraka’s victory in Newark’s mayoral race last week. Baraka, a former public school educator, made the defense of public education the centerpiece in his campaign. He ran in strong opposition to state Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, which called for the closing of city public schools and replacing them with privately run charters. Baraka’s opponent Shavar Jeffries received millions from pro-charter and voucher groups like DFER, including a $2.1 million infusion as election day neared and as corporate-style “reformers” panicked at the thought of yet another defeat at the hands of a progressive big-city opponent.

Baraka’s campaign had the backing of most labor unions and the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, which had also helped build Bill de Blasio’s successful campaign in New York City and spearheaded victories in Connecticut, including a school board election victory that sent Paul Vallas packing from Bridgeport. But Baraka’s most important base of support came from Newark’s South Ward, where the Baraka family has long resided. Gov. Chris Christie is already trying to figure a way to put Newark schools and possibly Newark itself into state receivership, like his compadre Gov. Rick Snyder has done in Michigan.

The victory had me recalling the 2010 D.C. mayor’s race that was also a referendum on corporate “reform"—the one in which an overwhelming movement of black and some allied progressive white voters sent Michelle Rhee packing. Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, posting at The American Prospect, calls this “the revolt of the cities,” and also lauds Bill Peduto’s victory in Pittsburgh and the election of a progressive majority on the city council that he says is “turning the city into a laboratory of democracy.”

All this points to the need for alliances between educators, and communities in which they teach. An independent movement including unions, schools and community groups is just what the doctor ordered if we are to save and transform public education.

Will Chicago be next? I hope so.


Michael Klonsky teaches in the College of Education at DePaul University. He is the co-founder and director of the Small Schools Workshop and is a co-author of Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society. He blogs daily at Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog, at//michaelklonsky.blogspot.com/. You can follow him on Twitter @mikeklonsky.

Photo: Thurgood Marshall and others celebrate the court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education outside the Supreme Court in Washington on May 17, 1954. (AP-File)

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.