I’ve seen this comment on bumper stickers, and I always nod. Because yes, if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. So many of our basic rights and foundations are being chiseled out from under us through ever-deeper attacks on the middle class; the meteoric rise of privilege in this country; the punitive attacks on the working class, labor and unions; and the slashing of public education.
Diane Ravitch, noted research professor of education at New York University and policy analyst, used that tag line as the closing sentence in her most recent blog. As former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, as the author of “Reign of Error” and numerous other books about public education, she has long explained how testing is undermining education and how the life and funding is being sucked out of public education. She’s asking us to get angry.
This weeks she writes staunchly:
“Let’s be clear: these attacks and the power amassed behind them are unprecedented in American history. Sure, there have always been critics of public schools, of teachers, and of unions. But never before has there been a serious and sustained effort to defund public education, to turn public money over to unaccountable private hands, and to weaken and eliminate collective bargaining wherever it still exists. And this effort is not only well-coordinated but funded by billionaires who have grown wealthy in a free market and can’t see any need for regulation or unions or public schools.”
As a longtime teacher and local union president, NYSUT’s new president Karen Magee knows that students are suffering from whacks to school budgets that eliminate social workers, art and music classes, teachers, SRP’s and school librarians. She knows the testing is draining students and teachers.
She and other NYSUT officers, leaders and union delegates are on their way this week to the annual American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles; many have just returned from the National Education Association annual convention in Denver. Ravitch calls on the leaders from both organizations; calls on the workers; and calls on the community to “take seriously the threat to survival of public education: not only privatization but austerity and over-testing. These are not different threats. They are connected…They are intended to make public schools weak and to destroy public confidence in democratically controlled schools.
“What is needed at this hour is a strong, militant response to these attacks on teachers, public schools, and – where they exist – unions,” Ravitch said.
Unions, she said, are the only collective voice that teachers have. This week NYSUT, the largest affiliate of the AFT, will be represented at the convention by Magee, who knows the wolves are the door, salivating for tenure, pensions and basic union rights as union employees.
“The threats are real and accelerating, part of a concerted campaign by the wealthy elite to systematically dismantle union rights,” Magee said in the current issue of NYSUT United.
Magee, the other NYSUT officers, delegates from other unions, and AFT President Randi Weingarten will be planning strategies to continue to build solidarity and protect fundamental rights. They will be taking on national issues and shared challenges to strengthen the house of labor and keep those wolves in the woods. Or perhaps the swamps.