PSAT for 6-26-12: Fight to the Death

Does that sound too gruesome?

It really doesn’t feel that way to me, which is why I was inspired/fired up and not discouraged by Ramsin Canon’s powerful article, “Negotiating with Doom in the Schools Debate.” I’m not even sure what that title means (something about the CPS-CTU contract negotiation), but, as usual, Canon nails the real problem with the involvement of Michelle Rhee’s Schools First, Jonah Edelman’s Stand for Children, Michael Bloomberg’s and Jeb Bush’s whatever:

“Notoriously funded by tiny groups of immensely wealthy people, with no control by or buy-in from communities, no democratic structures that allow for parent participation, and in fact nothing other than the whims of their millionaire funders, these groups have unilaterally decided they deserve a spot at the negotiating table….

“Why shouldn’t we be heard, they ask. After all, although we don’t live in your community, don’t send our children to school there, don’t vote there, don’t have any meaningful membership there and, to what degree we do have some supporters there, they have no meaningful say in how we as organizations make decisions, we are rich. In other words, we are not rooted in your communities at all; we have no stake in the outcome of our programs and policies insofar as they don’t materially affect us; nobody in your community has any say in how our organization is run; but we, for no reason other than our wealth empowering our speech, deserve a seat at the table and you must negotiate with us, or you–not we–are ‘politicizing children.’

“Their goals: liquidate teachers’ ability to collectively bargain and privatize enough the school systems to reduce the public schools to last-resort catchalls, not unlike public County Hospitals. Use unreliable but easily consumed standardized test scores and fluidly defined “graduation” rates to allow parents to choose a school from a menu, encouraging competition.

“That parents and teachers are unwilling to treat these demands as coordinate in legitimacy is then called out as ‘politicizing,’ or as being unwilling to compromise. Why should they compromise, though, with organizations that have no legitimacy outside of their cash reserves, and who have as stated purposes the de facto elimination of the two things parents and teachers care most about: keeping schools public and equal, and keeping teaching a competitive profession, drawing and keeping the best?

“Parents and teachers see, in the middle distance, the death of public education as the incubator of civil society with the goal of equality, in the form of neoliberal privatization reform. Who says you have to negotiate with death to be reasonable? You don’t negotiate with death. You fight death to your dying breath.”

Okay. That’s the “fight to the death” part. It’s that serious.

That’s why it can seem like whistling in the dark to write a blog nearly every Tuesday urging some action in support of public schools, as I have been doing for more than two years. Or go to one more Board of Education meeting or hold one more press conference or march from CPS headquarters to City Hall one more time.

Lots of people are writing great pieces these days and lots more people are sharing, reposting and retweeting to tell “our side.” Will it really help to pass all of that along to a few more folks?

Will it really help to keep pointing out and refuting the many, many bogus “reforms,” the faked-up success stories, the out-and-out lies of the privatizers?  We have shown them to be misleading and wrong over and over again.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a Parents Across America founding member being banned from commenting on a “reform”-leaning blog because she described a staffer for one privatizer group as “mercenary.” In a real debate, it wouldn’t be sporting – and would be completely beside the point – to question the motivation of the other side. But this is not an education debate. There are no “sides” pro and con. The motivation/agenda of the other side IS the issue. As Ramsin says, Death doesn’t negotiate.

To the extent that Stand for Children and others can corral a group of parents for their photo ops and video clips, they hope to make this a debate between groups of parents. How dare “those” parents think that their ideas are better than “our” parents. But it’s not a debate. It’s about the motivation of the strangers with candy.

Fight on

So, to answer my own questions, yes, it’s still worth doing all the things that we have been doing.

My very first PSAT post was about fighting Sen. James Meeks’ voucher bill. We won that one, not necessarily for ever but for now.

And we need to keep exposing the lies, telling the truth, and joining together (we need to support each other more than ever!). But we need to do this with the awareness of what the battle is really all about, and where our advantages lie. We don’t have their money but we do:

  • VOTE
  • SHOP

So, for Public Schools Action Tuesday for 6-26-12, here are a few things to do:

  • If you can (and can stomach it) go to the Board of Education meeting tomorrow, wear red in support of teachers.
  • Help collect signatures for a ballot initiative for an elected school board: Plan to meet with members of the CODE coalition (see below). For information about future petitioning dates, contact or on the Parents 4  Teachers Facebook page.:

LOGAN SQUARE: Wednesday, June 27, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., meet at the monument (intersection of Kedzie, Milwaukee, and Logan)

WEST TOWN:  Thursday, June 28, 6 p.m. barbeque, 7 – 8:30 p.m. circulate petitions. Meet at 2002 W. Superior St. (at Damen)

 And don’t give up the fight.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.