Officially it was billed as the Chancellor’s Conversation On Raising Standards In the Classroom and Chancellor Dennis Walcott was to welcome the audience and Common Core Standards presenter and co–author David Coleman at the stroke at 6:00 PM at Seward Park High School in the Lower East Side. Unofficially it was the first (of doubtless many) manifestations of Occupy the DOE. By the time I arrived in the delightful company of my unjustly fired former colleague Jafar Smith and his son at about 6:15, neither Walcott nor Coleman were anywhere to be seen. They and their entourage had already fled the auditorium leaving in their wake what struck me as a perfect image of their essence: a silent, empty stage surrounded by the police.
You know you have reached a strange moment in your history when someone bearing the title of chancellor of education needs police protection.
The auditorium, on the other hand, remained packed with passionate, articulate and very, very angry parents and teachers who made no mystery of their disgust and fury at Bloomberg’s ever deepening corporate education reform blitzkrieg, its ever-deepening failures, and what these failures are doing to their children, their children’s teachers and their communities.
Using the “people’s mic” made famous by the folks down the street a bit at Zuccotti Park, one speaker after another told all too familiar stories of their children being tossed out of charter schools because they were “too difficult, of ballooning class sizes, of having no books or supplies, of having to subject their students to constant test prep, of psycho or clueless administrators and of an overall degeneration of anything resembling a humane and serious education.
I can’t say I blame Walcott for fleeing. Herein was an audience that was going to demand that something billed as a “conversation” was, indeed, going to be a conversation and not the contemptuous ( if ever so civil ) monologue Walcott was doubtless meaning to present. He would have been eaten alive and he knew it. So too David Coleman, yet another shameless operative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose latest creation, the Common Core standards, are being rammed down teachers’ throats across the country without having any say whatsoever in the matter. Why not? He’s Bill Gates, after all.
People are no longer afraid. They will no longer tolerate insanity in silence. Not on Wall Street and not in their schools. Not with their future and not with their children. Rest assured this Occupy the DOE was the first of many such gatherings. As many, that is, as are needed to set things straight. As many, that is, that is takes to make the public schools truly schools and truly public.