Last Monday, a coalition of parents, educators, students, and New York City Councilmembers came together to rebuke school budget cuts to New York City schools. For their part, the present City Councilmembers sought to atone for their yes votes in favor of the decimating budget, elevating activists who’ve been at the forefront of a plethora of fights regarding our schools. For my part, I stood in wonder as dozens of people (with a former mayor on the side) came together this quickly and with this level of urgency.
Of course, I also had something to say:
We have a situation where NYC finally got a voting system that, by many accounts, seems to give various voters more choice, but still ended up with a mayor with regressive education policies. It’s no coincidence, for example, that large budget cuts to schools come from a candidate that openly embraces Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Bloomberg himself has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to expand charter schools in metropolitan areas including NYC.
Meanwhile, we haven’t heard much opposition except from what the mainstream has considered the far left. Since A Nation at Risk, Democrats and Republicans have sought to bring their renditions of accountability, austerity, and standardization to public schools while espousing innovation for privatized schools. These days, it’s evident that the anti-truth narrative of parental choice and conservative curriculum has captured the white electorate for Republicans, we see fewer Democratic officials who have solidified a future-thinking narrative for our schools, as evidenced by recent polling here.
I could get behind someone who fully embraced paths forward for public schools. I can’t stand the notion that we’d be letting go of one of this country’s most enduring social safety nets for people who never send their kids to them.
As we speak, pundits and politicians across the country are starting to get delicate about their market-based paradigms, especially when far-right nationalists use pejoratives against communities for simply seeking dignity, respect, and compassion. Looking out for queer students makes us groomers. Looking to teach history correctly puts us in line for harassment, firing, and blasted all over conservative news outlets (and the other spaces that fan the flames). Seeking a person’s right to full health care makes us murderers. And so on. These same folks proffer – incorrectly – public school students, educators, and parents as the problem.
At some point, we have to know the difference between those who want to improve public schools and understand its importance in our democratic experiment and those who seek to destroy schooling by squashing those who attend them.
The steady descent into fascism in local spaces should terrify us all, even in so-called blue states. Should they succeed in dismantling public education, we’ve also denigrated sources of health care, food security, and so many other societal needs for millions of children. Creating chaos to increase distrust in our institutions and intentionally defunding schools does not bolster the futures we seek.
But as an advocate, I know exactly what to do when public schools are under attack. I hope you’ll join us.