I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.

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How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.

 

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That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.

It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.

Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.

Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?

It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.

And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.

I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.

 

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Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.

School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.

 

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The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.

 

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I started as a journalist.

It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.

But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.

So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.

And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.

But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.

So I became an activist, too.

And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.

That led directly to the blog and now the book.

 

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So what’s in it?

In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.

And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.

One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.

What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?

I can see some of my students doing the same.

Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.

I guess this is my way of telling them.

It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.

You’re cordially invited to read it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I never would have had the courage to continue without you.

If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.

And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:

Gadfly on the Wall.

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(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)

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Donald Trump, If the US is Attacked, We Will Blame YOU

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Donald Trump,

Our nation is on the brink of massive violence.

Many people in the Middle East think the United States wants a war with Islam. Our relations with North Korea are more strained than they’ve been in decades. Russia has infiltrated the deepest levels of our government. Our international standing has been called into question. Our closest allies have been insulted and threatened. Our economy continues to stagnate. Our citizens live in fear. Hate groups are ramping up bomb threats, spray painting their rhetoric in public spaces and celebrating it being echoed back to them on the lips and Twitter accounts of our very own lawmakers. For the first time in decades, our sick, our elderly, our children are left to wonder – not if they will have enough – but if they will have anything at all.

All while our military grows fat and anxious and waiting.

It’s a power keg looking for a match.

And it’s mostly your fault.

Don’t think we’re unaware. We see what you and your cabinet of fools and hate-mongers are doing.

We see how they are “dismantling the administrative state.” We see how they are tearing away protections for your own citizens. We see how they are spreading fear and instability. We see how you are preparing the way for the next unnecessary war.

Most of these fires were not started by you, but your policies have poured gasoline on them.

There is only one thing you need to know: we will hold you accountable.

That’s right. We will hold YOU, personally, responsible.

If a terrorist attacks the United States, we will hold YOU accountable.

If a foreign power attacks us, we will hold YOU responsible.

If desperate and frightened Americans lash out at law enforcement or our military, we will hold YOU accountable.

We will not all rally together behind you. We will not close ranks. We will not hide behind the flag and join together to fight whichever enemy you point out.

We have lost too much innocence to believe such fairy tale propaganda anymore. George W. Bush used up the last drop of our bedtime story gullibility. We don’t roll that way anymore. We are cynical and awake.

You will not take advantage of our patriotism. You will not herd us like cattle to follow blindly after you.

We will not let you get away with stoking violence and then using the results as a justification for what you did to cause the problem in the first place.

Violence will not make you stronger. It will give us an excuse to tear you down and remove you from office.

If our nation is attacked, we will know it is because of your xenophobia. You can’t denigrate the entire religion of Islam, one of the most populous faiths in the world, without bringing down the ire of hundreds of millions of people. You can’t libel the intentions and histories of our nation’s multitudinous black and brown people without pushing us closer to violence. You can’t withhold a helping hand from the sick, poor and needy without expecting some to find other more violent ways to survive.

And if even one of these people responds to your government-sanctioned violence with a violence of their own, we will blame you. Because you are responsible.

You are President of the Untied States.

And an illegitimate President at that.

The only power that gives someone in your office the right to rule is the “consent of the governed,” and that, sir, you do not have.

You did not win the popular vote. The governed have not given you their consent. They consented to someone else. You only rule because of crusty bureaucratic red tape – an electoral college system that was put in place centuries past to prop up slavery.

So you will be held accountable if things go south. Because you deserve it.

You will be held responsible – not those poor devils who voted for you out of desperation. You will be taken to account – you and the other billionaire kleptomaniacs who gave voters only a choice of plutocracy or plutocracy – a choice of corporate controlled Democrats or corporate owned Republicans, a slow or a quick death.

Do not for one second think that war or violence or terrorism is in your best interest. It isn’t.

Right now you face deep unpopularity. You face federal investigations, judicial challenges to your rule by executive order, and mounting calls for impeachment.

But if your arrogant and ignorant administration devolves into violence, you will wish for these peacetime challenges.

There will be no more golf weekends at Mar-a-Lago. No more fun time trips to Trump Tower. No more complaints about TV ratings and crowd size. No more whining about protests and marches.

Because Americans are patient. We can wait out your idiotic Presidency. We can challenge you at the proper time and place and take back our country peacefully.

But if your rule breaks the peace, do not expect us to come to your aide.

I am not advocating violence. Just the opposite. But if violence comes, it will because of you.

For you have already woken a sleeping dragon. Beware her fiery breath.

Consider this a prediction, a warning, not a threat.

You will be held accountable.

Sooner or later.

Who’s Your Favorite Gadfly? Top 10 Blog Posts (By Me) That Enlightened, Entertained and Enraged in 2015

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“Pennsylvania educator and public school advocate Steven Singer is one of the most powerful voices in the nation when it comes to speaking out for students, parents, teachers and our public schools.”
Jonathan Pelto, founder of the Education Bloggers Network

 

 

“Steven Singer wrote these five terrific posts last year. I didn’t see them when they appeared. Probably you didn’t either. You should.”
Diane Ravitch, education historian

 

“Your name should be Sweet Steven Singer. You are a delight.”
Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union

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Hello. My name is Steven Singer, and I am a gadfly.

I make no apologies for that. It’s what I set out to do when I started this blog in July of 2014.

I told myself that people were too complacent. There was no curiosity. People were too darn sure about things – especially education policy and social issues.

They knew, for instance, that standardized testing was good for children. Why? Because Obama said so. And he’s such a nice man. It’s too bad all those mean Republicans keep making him do all this bad stuff.

They also knew racism was over. After all… Obama! Right? Black President, therefore, the hundreds of years of struggle – finished! Move along. Nothing to see here.

Yet all this “knowledge” went against everything I saw daily as a public school teacher.

Standardized tests are good for children? Tell that to more than half of public school kids now living below the poverty line who don’t have the same resources as middle class or wealthy kids yet are expected to magically ace their assessments. Tell that to the kids who get hives, get sick, or throw up on test day. Tell it to the black and brown students who for some unexplainable reason almost always score lower than their white peers.

Racism is over? Tell that to all my minority students who are afraid to walk home from school because they might get followed, jumped, beaten or killed… by the police! Tell it to their parents who can’t get a home loan and have to move from one rental property to another. Tell it to the advertising executives and marketing gurus who shower my kids with images of successful white people and only represent them as criminals, thugs, athletes or rappers.

So when I started this blog, I consciously set out to piss people off. But with a purpose. To quote the original historical gadfly, Socrates, my role is, “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” It seems well suited to a school teacher. After all, Socrates was accused of “corruption of the youth.”

It’s been quite a year. When I went to the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago last April, some folks actually seemed to know who I was. “Don’t you write that Gadfly blog?” was a common question.

When I met NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten, they both said, “I read your blog.” And then they looked me up and down suspiciously as if they were thinking, “THIS is the guy who writes all that stuff!? THIS is the guy giving me such a hard time!?”

Of course, I am human, too. One can’t sting and bite every day. Sometimes the things I write are met with love and approbation. Some weeks even Lily and Randi like me. Sometimes.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has given me tremendous moral support. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to have one of your heroes appreciate your work! Her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” really woke me up as a new teacher. I’m also on the steering committee of the Badass Teachers Association, an organization that has changed my life for the better. The more than 56,000 people  there are my support. I would never have had the courage to start a blog or do half of the crazy things I do without their love and encouragement.

And there are so many more people I could thank: my fellow bloggers Jonathan Pelto, Peter Greene, Russ Walsh, Nancy Flanagan, Mitchell Robinson, and Yohuru Williams. Also the good people at the LA Progressive and Commondreams.org. The incredible and tireless radio host Rick Smith.

There are just too many to name. But no list of acknowledgment would be even close to completion without mentioning my most important supporter – you, my readers. Whether you’re one of the 9,190 people who get every new post delivered by email or if you otherwise contribute to the 486,000 hits my site has received so far, THANK YOU.

So in celebration of my first full year of blogging, I present to you an end of the year tradition – a Top 10 list. Out of the 90 posts I wrote in 2015, these are the ones that got the most attention. Often they incensed people into a fury. Sometimes they melted hearts. I just hope – whether you ended up agreeing with me or not – these posts made you think.

Feel free to share with family, friends, co-workers, etc. After all, I’m an equal opportunity gadfly. I always cherish the chance to buzz around a few new heads!


 

10) The Democrats May Have Just Aligned Themselves With Test and Punish – We Are Doomed

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Published: July 17, 2015
Views: 7,122

Description: It hit me like a slap in the face that almost all Senate Democrats voted to make the reauthorization of the federal law governing K-12 public schools a direct continuation of the same failing policies of the Bush and Obama years. Heroes like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seemed to be turning their back on teachers, parents and school children. And they were stopped in their efforts by… Republicans!

Fun Fact: This story had some legs. It inspired a bunch of education advocates like myself who are also Bernie Sanders supporters to write the candidate an open letter asking him to explain his vote. His campaign eventually responded that it was about accountability!?


 

9) Punching Teachers in the Face – New Low in Presidential Politics

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Published: Aug. 3
Views: 14,735

Description: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thought he’d run for the Republican nomination for President. He thought threatening to metaphorically punch teachers unions in the face would get him votes. It didn’t.

Fun Fact: This new low in Presidential politics came just after Donald Trump had announced he was running. Christie’s new low now seems almost quaint after Trump’s calls to tag all Muslims and monitor their Mosques. How innocent we were back in… August.


 

8) This Article May Be Illegal – Lifting the Veil of Silence on Standardized Testing

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Published: April 18
Views: 15,818

Description: Teachers and students may be legally restrained from telling you what’s on federally mandated standardized tests, but we’re not restrained from telling you THAT we’re restrained. Is this just protecting intellectual property or direct legal intimidation of educators and children?

Fun Fact: I have not yet been arrested for writing this piece.


 

7) Stories about Teachers Union Endorsements of Hillary Clinton

Did the AFT Rank and File REALLY Endorse Hillary Clinton for President? If So, Release the Raw Data

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The NEA May Be About to Endorse Hillary Clinton Without Input From Majority of Members

(Sept. 21 – 3,873 hits)

A Handful of NEA Leaders Have Taken Another Step Toward Endorsing Hillary Clinton Despite Member Outcry

(Oct. 2 – 739 hits)

Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership, Member Opinions Unnecessary

(Oct. 4 – 7,074 hits)

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Published: July 12 – Oct. 4
Views: 16,134 TOTAL

Description: You expect your union to have your back. Unfortunately it seems our teachers unions were more interested in telling us who we’d be endorsing than asking us who the organizations representing us should endorse.

Fun Fact: I broke this story pretty much nationwide. News organizations like Politico were calling me to find out the scoop.


6) Why We Should Have ZERO Standardized Tests in Public Schools

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Published: Jan. 30
Views: 16,443

Description: Someone had to say it. We don’t need any standardized tests. We need teacher-created tests. And that’s not nearly as crazy as some people think.

Fun Fact: This was written back when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was being rewritten and naïve fools like me thought we might actually get a reduction in high stakes testing. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.


 

5) Atlanta Teacher RICO Conviction is Blood Sacrifice to the Testocracy

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Published: April 3
Views: 18,187

Description: There is something terribly wrong when we’re using laws created to stop organized crime as a means to convict  teachers cheating on standardized tests. I’m not saying cheating is right, but the mafia kills people. These were just teachers trying to keep their jobs in a system that rewards results and refuses to balance the scales, listen to research or the opinions of anyone not in the pockets of the testing and privatization industries.

Fun Fact: Watching all those seasons of “The Wire” finally came in handy.


4) Not My Daughter – One Dad’s Journey to Protect His Little Girl From Toxic Testing

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Published: March 20
Views: 26,420

Description: How I went to my daughter’s school and demanded she not be subjected to high stakes testing in Kindergarten.

Fun Fact: They were very nice and did everything I asked. If you haven’t already, you should try it!


 

3) I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too

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Published: June 2
Views: 28,906

Description: White folks often can’t see white privilege. This is my attempt to slap some sense into all of us. If you benefit from the system, you’re responsible to change it.

Fun Fact: Oh! The hate mail! I still get it almost every day! But I regret nothing! A black friend told me I was brave to write this. I disagreed. Anytime I want I can hide behind my complexion. She can’t.


2) I Am A Public School Teacher. Give Me All the Refugees You’ve Got

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Published: Nov. 19
Views: 45,196

Description: Our public schools are already places of refuge for our nation’s school children. Send me more. I’ll take them all. I’d rather they end up in my classroom than drowned by the side of a river.

Fun Fact: I got equal love and hate for this one. Some folks were afraid of terrorists. Others didn’t think we could afford it. But many told me my heart was in the right place. Lily and the folks at the NEA were especially supportive.


 

1) White People Need to Stop Snickering at Black Names

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Published: Sept. 6
Views: 96,351

Description: Maybe we should stop laughing at black people’s names. Maybe we should try to understand why they are sometimes different.

Fun Fact: You’d have thought I threatened some people’s lives with this one! How dare I suggest people should stop mocking other people’s names! If you want to know how strong white fragility is in our country, read some of the comments! But many people thanked me for bringing up something that had bothered them for years but that they had been too polite to talk about, themselves. This is easily my most popular piece yet.

 

“Talking Crap” Focus on Teacher Bathroom Breaks Misses the Point on Problems Impacting Teachers

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By Yohuru Williams and Steven Singer

Nearly 18 years ago in his 1997 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton urged Americans to prioritize education. He suggested beginning with building respect for the teaching profession. To “have the best schools,” he observed, “we must have the best teachers.” He continued, “most of us in this chamber would not be here tonight without the help of those teachers.”

Despite Clinton’s eloquence, respect for the teaching profession steadily declined due primarily to a narrative of failure constructed by the proponents of corporate education reform. They consistently blame the power of teachers’ unions and teacher tenure for society’s woes. They use both as a justification to construct a multi-billion dollar industry to standardize and privatize our public schools.

For the most part, the mainstream media has been reluctant to challenge this narrative and point to the real obstacles that exist for teachers. Such is the case with a recent article in The Atlantic by Alia Wong entitled “Using the Restroom – a Privilege If You’re a Teacher” that completely misses the point of a recent survey highlighting some of the substantive issues facing the nation’s teachers.

Tens of thousands of professionals responded to the 2015 survey. The survey was conducted collaboratively by two groups: the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots network of more than 55,000 educators, parents and students and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union. The survey yielded shocking results that powerfully illustrate the collateral damage of the “test and punish” environment engulfing public education. This includes such serious allegations regarding workplace conditions that it prompted a meeting between the authors and the U.S. Department of Education. A team of educators working with both BATS and the AFT launched the 80 plus question survey in April. Some 91,000 public school teachers responded and 31,000 completed the survey. The unprecedented response revealed that there are indeed major problems with our current education policy and its impact on education practitioners.

Perhaps, the most startling revelation from the survey is what prompted it to be conducted in the first place – the increasing incidence of teachers and administrators who committed suicide due to bullying and abuses stemming from national school policy and other work place stressors. These are often the hidden casualties in the war on public education.

In October of 2010, for example, a California elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. took his own life after the Los Angeles Times published a report labeling him a “less effective teacher.” Despite the fact that students and parents praised Ruelas, who taught in one of poorest schools in his district and who also was born, raised and continued to live in area where his school was located, the Times targeted him among other so-called “less effective” teachers as part of a major propaganda campaign. Publishing their names and ranking them according to their students’ test scores was supposed to encourage “reform”.

The Ruelas case is far from an isolated incident. Just last month, a New York City principal under investigation for altering Common Core test scores, killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car.

If U.S. teachers are the proverbial canary in the coalmine, then we may already be too late. Pressures related to high stakes testing are not the only stresses educators face. Teachers also reported significant bullying and hostility from city officials and administrators. Equally disturbing were reports concerning the infamous teacher jails where educators can languish for months under conditions, leaving them “broken, depressed,” and “suicidal, according to one California teacher observer. Statements recently made by New Jersey Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Chris Christie reveals the scope of the problem. He said he would like to punch the national teachers union in the face. Rather than enjoying esteem as valued members of the communities they serve, educators have become convenient scapegoats. They fight on multiple fronts to provide their students a superior education and make a stable living.

It’s no wonder 73 percent of teachers in the Quality of Work Life Survey said they often find themselves stressed at work.

More than half of those surveyed, 55%, highlighted the “negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media” as a source of stress. The pejorative portrayal of teachers in a publication like The Atlantic is especially problematic. That a national periodical elected to do a piece on the survey but limit its scope to toilet restrictions trivializes other results. It’s not that this isn’t an important factor, but Wong’s coverage of other pertinent issues get short shrift. In her words educators tend to be, “known for their tendency to complain about and perhaps over-exaggerate their stress levels.”

To be fair, Wong eventually deleted that remark from subsequent editions of the article. However, she cautioned her readers to be skeptical of the survey because of potential bias. It’s a survey of teachers conducted by teachers. This is an odd critique however given the survey takers expressed intent to use the data collected as a means to spur the Department of Education to conduct a full scientific survey of the profession and then take appropriate action to rectify these concerns.

Rather than reporting squarely on the survey, Wong picked over the evidence. Rather than heeding the call that there is a real need for a much larger and more focused study of these problems, she either ignored or debunked its claims. Rather than treat educators as professionals, she belittled them.

Wong is not a bad journalist. Like most people, she has bought into the notion that teachers don’t know how good they have it. The public still doesn’t understand why teachers have “summers off.” They still misunderstand tenure to mean “a job for life” when it’s really only a guarantee of due process. Instead of helping the public better understand these issues, Wong and other representatives of the media often become entangled in the snare of the same myths.

Once again those entrusted with the most important job of preparing the next generation through our system of public education are losing a public relations campaign that can’t or won’t distinguish truth from falsity.

In short, our problems are much worse than inadequate bathroom time. We’re turning our public schools into factories and blaming teachers when it doesn’t work. We’re allowing billionaire philanthropists to set education policy but holding educators accountable for the results. We’re segregating our schools, providing Cadillac funding for the rich and bicycle funding for the poor and minorities but expecting teachers to somehow make up the difference. We’re letting corporate raiders run charter schools with no transparency or accountability and when that proves a disaster, we point our fingers at teachers. The result is a nation of frustrated educators who are increasingly leaving the profession in droves. “The average teacher,” writer Robert Brault once observed, “explains complexity” while “the gifted teacher reveals simplicity.” The data collected from the teacher survey reveals the complexity of the issues facing public education but they also highlight a simple truth. For if the survey is indeed accurate in illustrating just how debilitating these issues are to adults, we can only imagine what it’s doing to our children.


Yohuru Williams is an author, Dean, Professor of History and Black Studies, and education activist. Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, and blogger, education advocate. Both are members of the Badass Teachers Association.

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NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.

Bending Toward Justice: BATS Congress and the Fight Against Corporate Education Reform Taking Back the Power of Teachers

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(NOTE: This article was written by Yohuru Williams and Steven Singer)

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.—Mahatma Gandhi

Nearly a year ago today, I joined an inspiring band of intrepid activists who made their way to the nation’s capital to protest the impact of high stakes testing and corporate education reform. We arrived with the genuine hope that a demonstration at the Department of Education might encourage a national discussion about what many have rightfully identified as the destruction of public education.

After a long day of speeches and activities, a representative from the Department came out and asked for a meeting. After being ushered through security, a small contingent of protesters and I travelled upstairs where we were hustled into a small conference room. After a few minutes, Secretary Arne Duncan joined us. He stayed for only a few minutes, sometimes listening, but mostly politely but firmly pushing back and evading our grievances. It was clear that we had come to the wrong place.

After he departed, Arne’s staff pressed us for solutions. I suggested a National Teacher Congress that would allow real teachers, from across the nation, and from all backgrounds and districts, to convene in Washington to earnestly discuss and explore solutions. Arne’s aides perked up. “What a fantastic idea,” one his staffers chimed in. In abstract it was, but as we debated it in the weeks following the protest it was clear that we needed something stronger. We felt acknowledged for sure, but certainly not heard. For all the power projected on him, Arne is a functionary and we determined that we needed to go after the persons and entities on whose behalf he functioned.

In the months that followed my idea of a Teachers Congress morphed into a week of lobbying to educate elected officials about the detrimental impact of corporate education exacerbated by rampant racism and poverty. The idea of a National Badass Teachers Association (BATs) Congress was born.

On Saturday, July 24, 2015 I reprised my role as keynote speaker as part of that Congress, but the real action had already taken place as my fellow BAT and edu-blogger Steven Singer of Pennsylvania chronicles below. The BATs returned to DC, not to revisit history but to continue our mission of creating real opportunity and equity in the nation’s schools. For even as we all firmly believe, as the Reverend Dr. King once expressed that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, we also acknowledge that sometimes you have to push at its base to help it’s curvature along. —Yohuru Williams

Steven Singer:

We came to Washington, D.C., in ones, twos and threes.

We came by the carload. On the train. In transcontinental flights. Even walked.

No mass uprising. No angry rhetoric. No fists shaking.

No corporate funding. No thick rolls of bills. Just whatever jingling change we could spare for travel, room and board.

We occupied the Capitol stuffed overcapacity in hotel rooms, sometimes sleeping on the floor or even in the hall.

Not ideologues, not Democrats, not Republicans – just parents, teachers, students, people.

Who are we? We are the Badass Teachers Association. And we came to be heard.

Last year we stood outside the U.S. Department of Education to air our grievances. We spoke to those walls, we spoke to each other and the open air. We spoke with such volume, the doors opened and we were invited inside.

And in the presence of The Powerful, we didn’t stumble, we didn’t lose our courage, we told the truth to their disbelieving faces.

Our public schools are not failing. YOU are failing our public schools.

Your policies are poisonous. Your testing is treasonous. Your facts are fallacious. Your designs are dangerous. Your ideas imperious. Your lectures libelous. Your measures malicious. Your networks nefarious. Your rigor ridiculous. Your standards suspicious.

Secretary Duncan, next year you should convene a congress of teachers. They would tell you what needs to be done.

 

And we meant it.

We didn’t wait for permission. We didn’t wait for an invitation. We gathered our own power, gathered our selves and this year became the Badass Teachers Congress.

For two days we marched up Capitol Hill and into the halls of the House and Senate. We made appointments months in advance to sit down with our legislators, and if they wouldn’t meet with us, we sat down with their aides, and if they wouldn’t commit to a meeting, we showed up anyway.

We told them the truth. Right to their faces if they were brave enough to face us.

We didn’t wait for education policy to be directed by education experts. We presented our expertise, offered it freely, shook hands, smiled and looked them right in the eye.

But we didn’t stop there. Telling Congress is one thing. We BECAME a Congress.

We drew on our own first hand experiences of the failure of national education policy. We drew on research, peer-reviewed studies, the fruits of universities and colleges – real, unmanipulated data.

And we came up with resolutions.

We acknowledged that our labor unions sometimes fail to live up to their promise. But we didn’t throw them away. We devised ways to strengthen them, to increase their power to empower and make them more like us.

We shared our fear of being the lone dissenting voice and planned ways to overcome ourselves and speak up for our children and communities even if our voices shake.

We acknowledged our national history of racism, sexism, and prejudice. And we didn’t allow our many different shades of skin to provide offense, we didn’t allow our various cultures, ethnicities, religions and sexualities to become a burden. We drew on our differences as a strength and committed ourselves to acknowledging the ways we have been disenfranchised. We decided on a path of love and acceptance even if that path might take us to places that make us uncomfortable, we’d go there together.

We resolved to continue protecting teachers from toxic work environments that far too often become abusive. Too many of our colleagues have taken their own lives due to the toll of this job. We are the last line of defense between children and people who would sooner sell their futures for a few pieces of silver. And finally the problem is being recognized and steps are being taken – slowly – to help.

In short, we did what The Powerful least expected or wanted. We held each other up. We recognized our own power and vision. We organized, made plans and set the course for our future.

In the weeks that follow, more details will emerge. We’re still examining the incredible input, ideas and information. So much happened, it’s hard for any one person to encapsulate it all.

But of this you can be sure.

We are the Badass Teachers Association.

We are not waiting to be invited anywhere. We are not asking permission. We are taking control of our own destinies.

And we will be back.


 About the Authors:

Yohuru Williams is an author, Professor of History and Black Studies, and education activist. Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, and blogger, education advocate. Both are members of the Badass Teachers Association.

williams-singerNOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive.