Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I ain’t ain’t marching anymore. (with apologies to Phil Ochs)

The last and only time I marched on Washington D.C. was the Moratorium to end the Vietnam War in November 1969. Hundreds of thousands marched through the cold streets of Washington D.C. while FBI agents took pictures of us as we shouted “Peace Now” and waved our flags and signs. My friend and I had constructed a giant (we thought it novel) Peace Flag that was eventually used up on the speaker’s platform. We were so proud. We slept on the gym floor of a local parish church. When it was time to leave, at first we couldn’t find our bus to go back to NY, but eventually we did. Frankly, it is all a blur but a well worthwhile one.

I was not a joiner, a marcher or a protester. I was not much of an activist either. I had friends who were deeply involved in the movement but I was happy to get involved in conversations and do my little part to convince people, one at a time, that the War was wrong. However, when friends were deployed I felt it important to do more. So I marched.

Here we are 42 years later. I will march on Washington this July because again we must stop a war. This time it is the war against teachers, students, and education. Over the past 10 years what started as an intervention has become a full-scale assault. The parallels with Vietnam are astounding.

Now as well as then presidential decisions to begin by giving assistance in “the battlefield” became congressional acts to fund, arm and send troops. Corporations were enlisted to fund and manufacture the goods to fight. Escalation became the operating word.

This time I was content to argue against standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, and most recently, Race To The Top. This time I pointed out not how a military-industrial complex gained control of foreign policy, but how a new education-industrial complex had seized control of education policy, for their own profit.

In addition, what seemed like a good idea, TFA, had morphed into what I now call a 5th branch of the armed forces. At first it innocuously sent advisors in small numbers to educational “battlefields”. But now its power and numbers escalate as we idly sit by.

Not for nothing, but TFA recruits young men and women in a not so unfamiliar way. “Join the Army- Be All You Can be? Join the Marines- Looking For A Few Good Men? Join the Navy- It's Not Just a Job, It's An Adventure? Join the Air Force- Aim High? TFA- This could be the best career decision you make?”

TFA recruits are also thrust into a war zone, yet less prepared than my friends were 42 years ago. Often misled and naive 20 somethings, they are unarmed when they go to war to defeat the enemies of education: poverty, poor training, poor leadership, and a host of other saboteurs.

So now 42 years later I go to Washington to march again. But this time I go as more than a marcher. I go as an organizer, presenter, and activist. I do all this because the Chief Executive, Congress, and an Industrial Complex including TFA threaten the avocation I have loved for 41 years.

I march because of the high school kids and programs I see threatened by this assault.

I march because of what this war on education will do to my former colleagues and the new teachers with whom I work.

I march to teach how good high schools can be if we let professionals do the work.

I march to fix how we train new teachers (traditional and TFA) to be better able to fight the real war they and our students face day in day out.

I march to get TFA to change; to work with traditional teacher training institutions; to stop vilifying veteran teachers and actually recruit them to train their recruits; to help us recruit top talent to stay in teaching; to become "lifers". I march to get TFA to listen.

I march for change.

I march for reform.

I march for academic freedom.

I march for curricula and methodologies to develop the best-informed, critical thinking, problem solving students in the world.

Most of all I march for our kids.

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