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

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.

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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:

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.

Towson University students rally against "White Student Union." Photo by Bill Hughes.

A group calling itself, the White Student Union, was the subject of three demonstrations, on the Towson University campus on Tuesday afternoon, April 2, 2013. Towson students, who don’t like the group, held their protest earlier in the day at 4 PM, followed by two demonstrations at 6 PM by local human rights and social justice advocates.

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“America is now in considerable part more a formal political democracy than a democratic social structure, and even the formal political mechanics are weak.”

- C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956

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.


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