When a nation is invaded by an occupying army, there are multiple responses from those whose communities have been occupied. Some resist openly, at great risk; some decide to collaborate; others grimly go about their business in sullen compliance; still others decide to feign compliance, but take their resistance underground.
Such would be a good description of the varied resistance to the corporate takeover of American schools, which has many of the elements of a foreign invasion. Those who have coordinated the campaign of privatization, testing. and union busting that has swept through America’s public schools — Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, and the like, none of whom have a background in teaching — have used the shock and awe tactics employed by invading armies to overwhelm opposition.
They have crushed or bought off opponents, controlled public media, and found an eager army of mercenaries — Teach for America corps members — to implement their policies, which undermine the best practices of those who have spent their lives working in the nation’s schools.
If you could freeze this corporate takeover in time, it would look like a resounding success. Not only has the federal education bureaucracy been taken over by the invading group, one state and locality after another has adopted the policies they have proposed. Charter schools have been replacing public schools with breakneck speed; teacher evaluations based on student test scores have become the norm throughout the nation; and in-school testing is multiplying while other pathways to learning are being crowded out.
But one should not underestimate the extent, or the complexity, of the opposition to these policies that is arising. When rules are imposed by an invading army using overwhelming force, compliance doesn’t necessarily mean consent. And this is true of the testing regime the corporate reformers are introducing,
Many teachers, parents, union leaders, and school administrators secretly despise the policies being imposed on them; but see no way off opposing them with sacrificing their careers or children’s welfare. But little by little, voices of resistance are appearing, some public, some private, which are not only raising doubts about the wisdom of the policies, but also building hope that some day they can be reversed.
What we now have is a non-violent army of resistance to corporate education reform, small in number, but high in courage, morale, and vision, which is exposing the flaws of these policies on every front.
And as the policies themselves become more invasive, demoralizing, and counterproductive, more people are joining the opposition, some clandestinely, others publicly. The Chicago Teachers Strike mobilization, the New York Principals and Professors petitions against high-stakes testing, the national movement to have parents opt out of high-stakes testing, the student and neighborhood protests against school transformation policies, all show that the corporate invaders have not been able to effectively pacify the territories they have occupied.
And as their policies become more brutal — as poverty proliferates and the middle class shrinks, as class size mounts, and as K through 12 testing becomes the norm while all activities which foster creativity and critical thinking are discarded — resistance will grow.
Few battles have more significance for the future of democracy in the United States than this one. Who knows, even some member of the mercenary armies
recruited to implement these policies may decide to rebel.
This piece was earlier published at L.A. Progressive.