Afterglow and Afterthoughts
Some Thoughts on Glenn Beck’s We Will Not Conform Interactive Event:
I have to admit it was thrilling last night to watch and participate in Glenn Beck’s national presentation designed to generate a unified action plan at scale to stop Common Core. To see the faces at the tables and in the audience, many of whom I know personally and who have been involved in this rather lonely fight for a number of years, was to say the least satisfying. Finally this issue is beginning to receive the attention it deserves with the goal of moving forward strategically with a united front.
Yet I was also struck by who wasn’t there. A number of state and national leaders in the anti-Common Core movement were notable for their absence. Some names that come to mind are Mercedes Schneider, the brilliant teacher-investigator-statistician who has dug up and exposed in great detail the interconnections of the corporate reformers; Diane Ravitich, who switched sides on privatization when she saw the damage it was doing and built what I believe was the first network of social media to share information; in my own state of Oklahoma, Linda Murphy, who raised the cry early on and traveled the state to raise awareness among parents, teachers, and legislators; and I could name others, but these suffice to make my point. And my point is more of a question: although Beck emphasized that this issue cuts across all political ideologies and perspectives, what does not having these folks at the tables or at least in the audience actually say? For all I know, invitations to participate may have been extended and declined, but I would like to have heard the names mentioned or some reference made to them. And it was striking that by far the majority of the people on the panels fall into the conservative camp. Where were the “liberals?” It’s their fight, too, in many cases.
I also had a couple of concerns in regard to the “Alternative” table discussion. The three alternatives that were suggested were homeschooling, private schools, and charter schools. First, from a realistic standpoint, all three of these options are middle-class options. Only middle-class parents can afford to homeschool or pay tuition for private schools and quality charter schools. Parents who struggle in poverty to simply put food on the table have nothing left over to activate these choices. These “alternatives” allow escape from Common Core for middle to upper class children but leave the poor to sink in it. For that reason, I do not see these alternatives as any kind of real solution to the problem of Common Core. I realize that the statement was made that even if these alternatives are used, we can not turn our backs on public schools, but I fear that is exactly what will happen if large numbers of middle-class parents avail themselves of these options. Public schools are absolutely the backbone of our democratic system, a fact that the founders of our system of government clearly understood. To abandon them is to give up on democracy.
A second concern I have is with the presentation of the charter school option. This is no reflection on Dr. Terrence Moore, who did an admirable job of defending his particular kind of charter school and did indeed bring the conversation back to support of all education, whether public or private. My concern is what was left unsaid about the charter school movement in this country. For the most part, charter schools, using the euphemism “choice,” have been co-opted by the wealthy charter school entrepreneurs to become even more wealthy at the expense of the public coffers. The huge charter chains which have taken over in cities like New Orleans are failures and are failing the students and communities where they exist. I think it is important to draw the distinction between these kinds of charter schools and the ones Dr. Moore represents, and that was not done in the program.
I hope these comments will be taken in the spirit in which I intend them–as an attempt to broaden the conversation. If the movement is to be effective, all stakeholders of all political persuasions must be on board and put aside personal differences that may exist. The solution must be a solution for all, not just the middle class, lest public education experience a new iteration of white flight. And we must return charter schools to their original purpose–to create sites of real innovation, instead of profit centers. As we move forward on whatever action plan may be determined appropriate, I hope that the issues I have raised will be addressed.