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The Real Stand for Children

Pop History Quiz: Do you know how children ended up off the factory floor and in classrooms?

Unionized adults.

From the 1830s until the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, organizations like the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen, the American Federation of Labor and others led the fight to end child labor and institute compulsory schooling laws. (That fight, by the way, continues.)

The reminder seems important now, especially today as Chicago teachers walk picket lines in the largest educator strike in years. For several years, organizations and individuals pushing corporate-driven education policies have repeatedly and cynically argued–directly or otherwise– that unions represent the interests of adults, not children.

But in the real world, beyond the exclusive communities and lofty offices inhabited by the special interest groups pitting families and communities against teachers, the interests of adults and children overlap more often than not. For example, the 19th and 20th Century working men and women who pushed for child labor and mandatory education laws made their point for two overlapping reasons, from their perspectives as working people who were also responsible for children: their concern over competition from smaller, cheaper laborers as well as their concern for the health, safety and well-being of those often-exploited children.

Likewise, as Chicago teachers strike today, they are doing so to promote the shared interests of the entire Chicago community. From the children who stand benefit from smaller classes, more arts programs, libraries, and social workers who can enrich their lives; to the community whose local economy would benefit from more working professionals who can pay for the things businesses sell– as well as the extra child care and other expenses many of those professionals will incur if they work a longer day; to the educators themselves, who stand to win both the fair pay and dignity they’re due for their hard work.

By contrast, the policies pushed by their opponents actually do put the interests of SOME adults over the interests of children and the broader community alike. Read More

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If we really want to #protectourkids, let’s have an honest conversation.

As a society, one of our most important shared responsibilities is the one we take to raise children who are ready to become productive, engaged members of our communities. It’s up to all of us to keep them safe, healthy and whole, so they can do the hard work of learning and meeting their full potential. Keeping kids safe and healthy requires trust and cooperation among the adults in each child’s life, as well as vigilance among the members of the broader community. This is why we have laws and policies against child abuse and neglect, as well as policies and practices that aim to prevent—or in the awful cases when that fails, to report and prosecute—such abuse.

This is a serious issue, which is why it’s incredibly offensive and dangerous for it to be politicized and trivialized, as has happened over the past few days.

Last week, former journalist Campbell Brown published an incendiary op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, falsely accusing unions of failing to protect children. This is demonstrably untrue; the union-district contract calls for anyone accused of misconduct to be suspended without pay, and fired if found guilty. Still, she repeated the lie again on national television, and then initiated a Twitter attack on AFT President Randi Weingarten (who has actually promoted reforms on this issue nationwide) to further publicize the claim. Realizing that her family ties to both StudentsFirstNY (SFNY) and the Romney campaign—both strongly anti-union—could explain the sudden attack, people began to ask why she didn’t disclose the connection upfront. She accused those questioners of sexism, and SFNY sent an e-mail blast asking subscribers to help continue the attack online.

Anger and offense continues to mount on both sides, and most media coverage of the issue ever since has revolved around Twitter fights, phony accusations of sexism,  problematic analogies and more– everything BUT the bigger issue of protecting children. Read More

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On the ethics of selling slingshots

I was very happy when I learned of Change.org’s decision to end their relationships with two astroturf organizations operating against the common good in education. It’s always heartening to see how people faced with tough decisions can listen to (often heated) input and weigh sometimes competing  concerns. Having spoken to some of their staff, I know they take our concerns very seriously, and I applaud them for having the courage to publicly take this important first step towards ensuring that their business commitments fully align with their stated values.

For those unfamiliar with why this became such a contentious issue, let’s return to the David and Goliath metaphor some of Change.org’s staff and many commentators use to describe the site’s impact.

How would you feel about King Saul if, just after sending a slingshot-armed David into battle, he turned and sold upgraded slingshots to Goliath and the rest of the Philistine army? That’s how many public education advocates had begun to feel about Change.org. Read More

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‘Bad’ Women, Teachers, and Politics

Published at The Huffington Post on February 24, 2012

Just three months into 2012, as the Republican primary season continues, the tenor of the political conversation around contraception and other “women’s” issues has grown increasingly alarming (to those of us firmly grounded in the 21st Century, anyway). Though there is a long historical tradition of projecting social anxieties onto women’s (especially ‘bad’ women) behavior, it’s still jarring for those of us who’ve grown up hearing about, thinking about and believing in our equality to be reminded of how tenuous our freedoms really are.

But for those of us who work in education, these gendered frustrations haven’t just resurfaced because of primary season. Our field has been under bipartisan attack for a while now, as our feminized profession (76% female) has joined the ranks of all the other “bad” women throughout history who’ve been accused of threatening society’s well-being. Read More

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Why the #EdSOTU Matters

Of course the President isn't directly in charge of schools, but his policy advocacy affects learning conditions nonetheless.

Published at The Huffington Post on January 29, 2012

(Or, A Tale of Two Speeches)

Over at Teacher in a Strange Land, Nancy Flanagan asked, “Who speaks for public education?”

I’d answer that a lot of people do (for better, and for worse), but we don’t all get the same kind of microphone, or the same airtime.

After watching the State of the Union address last night, I found myself thinking about the differences between President Obama’s statements on education and those of California Governor Jerry Brown.

In public statements over the past year, Governor Brown has said what many educators and parents nationwide have been saying for over a decade: that current state and federal education policy has emphasized high-stakes testing so much it has distorted and undermined the learning process. And in his Address, he outlined a specific direction for policymakers: that the amount of standardized testing be reduced, that the data be returned to schools more quickly, and that more qualitative measures of school performance be developed and used. He ended his education remarks with these words:

The house of education is divided by powerful forces and strong emotions. My role as governor is not to choose sides but to listen, to engage and to lead. I will do that. I embrace both reform and tradition—not complacency. My hunch is that principals and teachers know the most, but I’ll take good ideas from wherever they come.

By contrast, in the State of the Union last night, President Obama made vague allusions to a few existing K-12 education policies. They include paying teachers to increase test scores (“merit” pay), and encouraging states to seek ‘waivers’ that exchange freedom from NCLB’s impossible requirements for the adoption of the Administration’s preferred policies, which are just as strict. Hidden in applause lines about “rewarding the best teachers” and “granting flexibility”, are unproven policies that many researchers and public school stakeholders agree are hurting education.

But, some ask, why does this matter? Read More