Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kudos to the Philadelphia Student Union

This is a letter written by students and staff of the Philadelphia Student Union. It’s their review of the traveling show which stars Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton, and Newt Gingrich. The show had recently visited their city and the students were so "inspired" by the experience, they wanted to share it with the world. Thank you, students!

Last March, the NY Daily News broke a story about Rev. Al Sharpton's $500G link to education reform. It helps explain why he is in the picture.

As far as Gingrich's national security scare goes, this is an old blame-the-public-schools game that’s been going on since Sputnik. It also ties in with the neo-liberal technique to move things toward privatization by working up a "crisis." Naomi Klein does quite a credible job at explaining the strategy in "Shock Doctrine." I highly recommend the book, but need to warn you it's quite a lengthy read.

To learn how the crisis approach has been/is being used to destroy public education, look up Gerald Bracey and read some of what he's written. One place to start is Believing the Worst About Schools: A Lack of Logic From Sputnik to Tough Choices. Bracey, an academic researcher, is just one of the voices who calls out the lies and the twisted truths. He desperately needs to get in the national spotlight so he can counteract some of the toxic crap that's put out. His new book is Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. Read it and see if you don't agree.

Now for the letter and its accompanying video:

Dear Friends and Allies,

Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Reverend Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came to our city as part of their “Listening and Learning Tour” regarding a national agenda for public education reform. Students, parents, teachers, and community organizations were left wondering who the group was really listening to, since none of us were included in the tour’s agenda. We were only able to speak with them through a locked and guarded wrought-iron fence.

In the weeks leading up to the visit the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) sent several requests for the trio to meet with those who would be most affected by the reforms they plan to implement. PSU reached out through letters, calls, and emails on behalf of over 20 community organizations including Youth United for Change, Teacher Action Group, Education Not Incarceration, the Southeast PA Network, the United Taxi Workers Alliance, West Philly High Community Partners, Parents United, Radio Tlacuache, the Community Education Network, Labor Justice Radio, PA ACORN, and William Penn Community Stakeholders.

Because we believe in transparency, we attempted to get information to circulate to the entire community on the itinerary of the tour, but found that it was not public information. Every office assured us that someone else had control over the schedule. We received notice of the tour schedule at the same time the press did, approximately two days prior to the event. District leaders did not support our request to demonstrate to the members of the Listening and Learning Tour that there is an active, mobilized community in Philadelphia that supports our public schools.

The tour stopped at one of the Mastery Charter Schools located in West Philadelphia and also McDaniel Elementary School in the Point Breeze section of the city. There were no stops in any comprehensive neighborhood high schools, arguably the schools in most need of attention here in the city. We had been told that a press conference was to be held in the parking lot of McDaniel Elementary at 2:15 p.m., an impossible time for students, and an inconvenient one for parents. Nevertheless, and on extremely short notice, PSU and YUC mobilized a group of 30 students, parents and allies from among our stakeholder groups to attend the press conference. We arrived to find an empty parking lot with a lonely podium and a multitude of police and security agents on hand to deny us entry to the building. The press conference had been moved inside.

We spoke to neighbors and parents who had no idea what was happening inside. As we told them what was going on many came outside of their houses and grabbed signs demanding to be heard. As our crowd got bigger and bigger many elected officials including Mayor Nutter, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and Congressman Chaka Fattah and various Philadelphia School District and SRC members exited the building. They were leaving the “round table stakeholders meeting” that preceded the press conference. Surely “education stakeholders” must be defined more broadly than elected officials and school district employees!

An hour and a half later Mr. Duncan, Rev. Sharpton, and Mr. Gingrich exited through the side door of the building. We later found out that a member of the media had asked inside if they were going to address the crowd assembled outside. They approached us to speak through a high, wrought iron fence.

Two student organizers, one from PSU (Koby's first hand reaction to the encounter) [A must read] and one from YUC requested that Mr. Duncan and Reverend Sharpton return to Philadelphia to meet with grassroots stakeholders and those who are most impacted by educational reform policies. The students were surprised to be told that they were “meeting right now”. The pair did eventually commit to setting up a meeting on substantive issues such as teacher quality and transforming low performing schools. Footage showing us sealing the meeting

With help from the Media Mobilizing Project, PSU also produced a video piece (From the Other Side of the Fence) from footage of the closed-door press conference. It chronicles the whole experience and details more of the messages in this tour about what the national agenda for public education in the United States is.

If you know anyone in Baltimore or New Orleans let them know the tour is headed their way. The trio will be in New Orleans on November 3rd and Baltimore on November 13th.

Please communicate with your elected officials, as we will be. Ask them if they were included in the roundtable and if they spoke up in favor of the inclusion of independent parents and students.

We will be sure to communicate with you when the date and time of the meeting is secured. As we prepare to welcome Reverend Sharpton and Secretary Duncan back into our city, we are committed to bringing impacted communities to the table. We would like to thank all our allies and friends for making an impression on the Listening and Learning Tour “From the Other Side of the Fence”.

Staff and Youth Leadership Team of the Philadelphia Student Union.

1 comment:

caroline said...

You posted this commentary only hours after Gerald Bracey's death. Bracey was a relentless and courageous seeker of truth and fairness, especially in rebutting the clamor of attackers battering public education. A fitting tribute to Jerry would be for those voices to pause for a moment to listen to him and think.