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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Phone rang early this morning ...

The call was from the city councilman with whom I was to have lunch and chat about joining his staff soon. "Last night was our swearing-in ceremony and many of my relatives came from elsewhere to join me in celebration. They're still here and I'd like to re-schedule our lunch 'til next week, if possible, Betty." "Of course, but I'll want to know if there is some question about whether you're interested in my being considered for the position." "Oh no! That's a given." So that's where we are at the moment, and we'll meet next Wednesday to work out the details.

I like him. He's been a public servant for some years, serving on the Peralta Community College Board and serving well. It may mean another couple of years of civic involvement before the lab gets the remains! He will have some interest in education.

Last night I attended a meeting of an ad hoc group of educators who've been studying the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation. It was spirited and revealing. It's been some time since I've met with educators -- not since leaving my position of field rep for Assemblywoman Hancock. It takes a different set of ears when you're participating as a member of the public. A lot more freedom is involved. No need to censor myself.

Learned that this legislation is not new at all but is simply the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in the Sixties which gave us Title 1. When that bill came up for reauthorization in 2001 (I believe), it was renamed NCLB and (supposedly) was enhanced with some "strengthening" measures. The irony was that it had worked to empower many minority students before -- when fully funded -- but under the reauthorization became little more than an unfunded mandate.

The passion expressed last night by concerned teachers and administrators (largely Latino, female, and/or African American) was unbridled. Their frustration at the conditions under which they're working was clearly moving many out of teaching in the public school system, and into either charter schools or out of teaching altogether. What a sad state of affairs. What a tragedy that we've allowed one of the best systems of public education in the world to fall into such chaos! What is obvious is that the schools are being privatized at such a fast rate that it's all happening under the radar of most parents and -- except for alert educators and a few concerned legislators -- it may already be too late to save them.

Found myself thinking last night that the only possible answer is the massive withholding of the source of revenue, ADA (Average Daily Attendance) by pulling children from the schools in a general strike of unity. That may be the only way to slow down the juggernaut and give us the time to correct our course.

One of the many speakers was Dr. Kathy Emery, the co-author of "Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?" It says on her book jacket, "...Kathy Emery has taught high school history for 16 years, has a Ph.D. in education from the University of California at Davis, and is currently working with Teachers for Social Justice and the San Francisco Organizing Project. Her dissertation, on which her book is based, can be found at www.educationanddemocracy.org.

Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools writes of her book:

"Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian have written a magnificent, carefully documented, and high-voltage manifesto to confront the degradation of our nation's schools by powerful corporations whose self-serving motives and assaultive tactics have developed into a relentless and dehumanizing juggernaut. Steam will be coming out of your ears by the time you finish this extraordinary book. It should be a wake up call to all who care about the future of our schools and all who truly value children."

Amen.


Bought a copy after hearing what she and the others had to say last night. It all fit closely with the facts as I'd been able to glean them from five years as a field rep in the county and the district. I knew that 49% of Latino and African American children drop out of school by the tenth grade -- according to state figures, and that I was unable to direct any attention to those shocking figures while working in the field. And, knowing that these were state figures, we can be fairly certain that the local figures were far higher.

The predictability, the drawing together of these facts with those of last Friday's meeting in Oakland last week (900,000 young men of color incarcerated) made my teeth grind!

And, how on earth will my next round of career moves impact this problem?

Will attend the school board meeting tonight when some of the teachers will be testifying. Maybe I can glower from the audience! Can't think of a single thing that will help when what I really want to do is work to convince every parent to remove their kids from the schools in a show of determination to save the system from a predictable fate. The schools will be taken over by private educational enterprises, sold, made into charters, or simply closed. That's a certainty, unless ...

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