The Schools We Want/the Schools We Deserve
A New Deal for Public Education
(DRAFT: 10-Point Program)
Education is a fundamental human right and a basic community responsibility.
Every child, simply by being born, has the right to a free, accessible, high-quality public education. That means that a decent, generously-staffed school facility must be in easy reach for every family. This is not at all difficult to envision: what the most privileged parents have for their children right now—small class sizes, fully-trained and well-compensated teachers, physics and chemistry labs, sports teams, physical education, and athletic fields and gymnasiums, after-school and summer programs, generous arts programs that include music, theater, and fine arts—is the base-line for what we want for all the children of our communities. Anything less weakens and then destroys democracy.
The curriculum must be forward-looking, recognizing the dignity of each person, and strengthening tolerance, understanding, peace and friendship among all people, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. Schools must be geared toward the full development of the human mind and the human personality, and that includes encouraging intellectual freedom and the ongoing consideration of fundamental questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? What does this time require of us now? Where do we want to go?
Given the harsh, unresolved history of white supremacy, and the adaptable and slippery nature of racial capitalism, it’s no surprise that the descendants of enslaved workers, African-ancestored youth, the children of First-Nations people and the laboring classes and immigrants from formerly colonized nations, too-often experience schooling as oppressive and colonizing rather than liberating. This must change. The public schools can and must become sites of resistance, vigorously combatting institutional racism, racial discrimination, segregation, and all forms of oppression.
A New Deal for Public Education will be shaped from the grass roots—fire from below. As organizers, educators, student, parents, and community members, we call for popular assemblies to mobilize in every town and county, every city, every neighborhood and community in order to build a bold, creative, and spirited mass movement—a red-hot fire from below—to demand the schools we need and the schools we deserve. These assemblies should “be realistic” and demand the impossible! We begin with a focus on first questions: In your dream of dreams, what should a good school look like in a free and democratic society? What do schools need to do in order to fulfill the needs of free people with minds of their own? What could schools be, and what should they become, as fundamental pillars of a free society? Dare the schools build a free social order?
TEN(tative) POINTS (for discussion)
1) Education is a basic human right and a fundamental freedom—it cannot be reduced to a product to be sold at the market place. We demand generous, full and equitable funding for public schools, and not another penny of public money used to advance the potent but deeply corrupt campaign to privatize public education.
2) Education is freedom. We demand an end to racism and white supremacy in both policy and curriculum, the termination of zero tolerance policies and the police-presence in our schools, and the elimination of the well-documented school-to-prison pipeline.
3) Education for free people stands firmly on two legs: enlightenment and liberation. We demand curriculum and teaching that allows young people to imagine and construct the kind of economy and society that they can thrive in, and that foregrounds, not obedience and conformity, but rather the arts of liberty—respect for oneself and others, initiative and courage, imagination and curiosity, problem-posing and problem solving, mutual aid and solidarity—which are essential to a free people.
4) Education must allow each person to reach the fullest measure of their promise and potential—in a strong democracy the full development of each is the condition for the full development of all, and, conversely, the full development all is the condition for the fullest development of each. We demand an end to the massively expensive high-stakes, standardized testing regime and its obsession with sorting “winners” from “losers,” and which only serves to exacerbate existing racial, social, and educational inequities.
5) Education, like life, begins in wonder, and so does art—learning to construct and create, to question and to experiment, to imagine and interrogate, to wonder and to wander—this is work of the arts as well as the sturdiest foundation upon which to build an education of purpose for a free people. We demand a full arts program in every school.
6) Education is embedded in community, and schools belong to and must serve the real material and cultural needs and aspirations of those communities. We demand safe and secure high quality public schools—community schools and after-school programs for all children, universal child-centered early childhood programs, nurses and counselors on-site, and free universal school meals—centers of community health and education embedded in safe communities, without regard to wealth or location.
7) Education builds on relationships, and sustainable relationships are difficult to achieve in large, impersonal factory-type schools. We demand smaller class size, and smaller schools.
8) Education depends on thoughtful, caring people in every classroom performing the essential ethical and intellectual work of teaching, and good schools build on the collective wisdom of teachers and staff in conversation with one another. We demand a standard starting salary for teachers of no less than $80,000 annually, and expanded collective bargaining rights.
9) Education recognizes that each person is the one-of-one—sacred, unique, and immeasurably valuable—and, at the same time, that we are each one part of the whole human family. We demand a curriculum that affirms both our individuality and our collectivity, that acknowledges the ongoing human struggle to achieve equality and justice, and that ensures generous funding for special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
10) Education recognizes that everything that counts can’t be counted, and that everything that’s counted doesn’t necessarily count. We demand schools that recognize children and youth as three-dimensional beings and not a collection of deficits and defects, and that acknowledge explicitly—and make count—the value of love, joy, justice, beauty, kindness, compassion, commitment, curiosity, peace, effort, interest, engagement, awareness, connectedness, happiness, sense of humor, relevance, honesty, self-confidence, and more.
We want schools that prepare free people to participate fully in a free society. We want schools that young people don’t have to recover from. We want schools that act as the hopeful launch pads for the dreams of all of our youth.