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Derek Black, a Law professor at the University of South Carolina, attended the Network for Public Education conference in Indianapolis and left convinced that the privatization movement is not going to survive.
Read it all. It is an uplifting take on the future.
Why am I suddenly confident, rather than nervous, about charters and vouchers? I got the chance to meet and listen to teachers from across the country at the Network for Public Education’s annual conference in Indianapolis this past weekend. For the first time in my professional career, I had a firm sense of public education’s future. I have litigated and participated in several civil rights and school funding cases, dealt with lots of different advocates, and watched closely as the teacher protests unfolded this spring. In Indianapolis, I saw something special—something I had never seen before.
I saw a broad based education movement led not by elites, scholars, or politicians, but everyday people. Those everyday people were teachers who were not just from big cities, small cities, suburbs, or the countryside, but from all of those places and as diverse as America’s fifty states and ten thousand school districts. The teachers weren’t just young or old, white, black or brown, men or women, straight or gay. They were all of the above.
So what then binds them together? Their opponents would say they are radicals or self-interested. But these teachers weren’t that either. As I sat down across the table and listened, I was struck by just how “every day” many of these teachers were. They had hopped on planes and come from across the country, but they were not any different from my kids’ teachers back in South Carolina–who had not even hinted at the possibility of a strike.
These movement “leaders” in Indianapolis were reluctant leaders. Like my kids’ teachers, these teachers struck me as the type who put their heads down, follow the rules, teach what the state asks, and care most of all about their students. And while these teachers were obviously disappointed in their states and concerned about the future of public education, I wouldn’t even call them mad. They stepped out on a ledge because they felt they had to.
One teacher, whom I recognized from this past spring’s newspapers but won’t name, actually had a lot of good things to say about her teaching experience and school. She said her principal lets her teach how and what she wants and that her school is good place. If I did not know who she was, you could not have convinced me that she led thousands of teachers this past spring.
There is one stereotype, however, that fits these teachers well: studiousness. They read—a lot. They research—a lot. As a result, they know and keep track of stuff that normally only policy wonks and professors know. Details matter in education policy and these teachers were on top of them. If I were governor and starting a new watchdog agency—whether in education or some other area—these teachers are some of the first people I would hire.
Over time, I have come to realize that clients matter more than attorneys. Groups of committed individuals standing behind movement leaders are, as often as not, more important than leaders. Attorneys and leaders tend to be just vessels for something larger than themselves.
What makes this teacher movement special is that the leaders are also the followers. The leaders come from within the ranks, not urged on by outsiders, elites, or money. They are urged on by their own sense of right and wrong, by their heartfelt care for public education and the kids its serves. For those reasons, they won’t be going away, bought off, or fatigued any time soon.