Future Imperfect: An Education Report for Tense Times

Youth from Taiwan announcing their open space session, at the 2013 International Democratic Education Conference. (Source: democraticeducation.org)

In the past week, I’ve been at two amazing conferences, both dealing with democratizing education. The first was IDEC, the International Democratic Education Conference, held this year in Boulder, Colorado.

Eleven percent of teachers would vote to extend the contract. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

October 14 of 2010 was a monumental day. On that day, the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), Local 340 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), voted down the contract which had been put before us by so-called labor-management cooperation. After some shenanigans, the contract passed in a re-vote, and workers in Baltimore schools have been suffering under the pseudo-merit-pay system for three years. Now, negotiations are back open.

At a rally organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers last thursday, May 30, students stand alongside their teachers, defiant and strong, to protest the closing of 23 more of Philadelphia's public schools and the gutting of school services. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians, mostly high school students, took to the streets to protest the closing of twenty-three schools and the discontinuation of vital programs such as athletic and arts activities, nurses and mental health counselors, and school libraries.

Photo Source: www.gse.harvard.edu

I have spoken with several teachers in the few days since we received word that Alonso would be leaving us. None mentioned feeling the pride that congressman Elijah Cummings expresses on his official website. I found it telling that very few were willing to have their names listed with their comments. There is a heightened sense of fear amongst teachers, and even the mildly critical comments teachers made could result in backlash. Baltimore has not yet seen the type of attacks on tenured teachers that Alonso helped to execute while working for Joel Klein in New York. But we all know these attacks are possible.

Students and parents from Lafayette School marched to their alderman's office on March 21. Lafayette is one of a staggering 54 Chicago schools slated for closure—the most ever in a single year in a U.S. city. Photo: Bill Healy, Chicago Public Media. (Source: labornotes.org)

The battle for Chicago’s schools is raging. The April 24th School Board Meeting in Chicago was a hotbed of competing interests, and nothing seems likely to cool down any time soon. As of Wednesday’s meeting, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) intends to close 54 schools, co-locate six, and send eleven more through a “turnaround” process in which they will massively reorganize students, teachers, and resources.

Nuestra Escuela. Photo By: Iris Kirsch

“Our school” in more ways than one, Nuestra Escuela is a gem. The school is democratically organized, honoring the voices of students and teachers alike.

Of course, teenagers in general are not always known to use the most forethought of any age group. In addition is that many of these young people have experienced poverty, abuse and failure, and it might seem foolhardy to entrust them with important decisions about their education.

Student Body President Joshua Martínez standing in front of the main campus of Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Caguas, Puerto Rico, about 30 miles south of the capital, San Juan, is home to about 87,000 people. By day, commerce bustles around a few major medical centers. Shortly after 5pm, people return to their homes, and the shop-lined streets downtown are vacant.

A bas-relief mural in Aguadilla, PR, depicts Columbus' first contact with the Taíno people. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

This winter, I had the great fortune to travel to Puerto Rico. A beautiful, diverse island, Puerto Rico has a long colonial history and a long history of resistance. Both of these traditions are still alive today, and Puerto Rico is a fascinating place to study the effects of neoliberalism.

Guest columnist Renard Barton is a graduate from Heritage High School, and currently attends the University of Baltimore.

(Renard Barton, a former student of Iris Kirsch, is a guest columnist for Future Imperfect: An Education Report for Tense Times. Iris Kirsch will return to her column on March 11th.)

As a teacher, it is better to have a loving classroom environment than a fearful classroom environment. Of course there are pros and cons to both. But from a little research it is possible to determine whether one outweighs the other. Although it is the teacher’s job to determine how they are going to run their classroom, it is generally better for student achievement to have a loving classroom environment.

Students Not Scores! Activism at McKeldin Square. Photo By: Iris Kirsch. (Note: EDS and the ISO are unaffiliated.)

To Teachers, Students, Parents, and citizens:

As teachers, and as activists for social justice, Educators for Democratic Schools is proudly in solidarity with all teachers, parents and students who are standing up to the madness of standardized testing

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