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People Power Helped Prevent a War -- Is a Transformational Moment Upon Us?

It really feels like we are at a turning point. It is getting harder to fool the public. Our eyes are open.

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Good quality education, including affordable post-high school education, in the United States is no longer treated as a right and a responsibility of the government to guarantee. Like so many other public services, education has become a profit center, a commodity. From teacher training materials to text books to tests and preparatory programs for those tests to charter schools and student loans, every opportunity to make a buck is exploited, no matter the human cost. Schools are also being used by the wealthy to advance particular political agendas as Lynn Schusterman, the wealthy widow of an oil and gas tycoon, is doing by funding pro-Israel programs within Teach For America. People are becoming more aware that Teach For America is a dangerous scam, indeed graduates, alumni and current teachers of the program are organizing against it.

The good news is that many people have reached the boiling point and are engaging in the work of reclaiming education and their integrity as teachers, students and parents. At every level, people are talking and writing about what education should be and could be. Some are fighting the corporatization of education through protest and others are building new institutions that are rooted in participatory democracy. This is part of rebuilding the commons to counter the predatory market economy, as we recently described.

The protest movement for equal access to high quality education for everyone has been particularly strong this year. We watched throughout the summer as parents, students and teachers from coast to coast fought the closing of schools, which are happening primarily in low income and minority neighborhoods, with occupations and marches, particularly in Chicago and Philadelphia.

Now the students in Chicago are organizing by creating a student union in order to have a voice in decisions that affect them. They hope to eventually have members in every public school in Chicago. And parents have joined the struggle to stop standardized testing from dominating the curriculum and being used against schools.

One sign that the transformation of education has reached a tipping point is the tremendous response to a new group of 27,000 self-identified Bad Ass Teachers that promises to take the struggle to a higher level of resistance. Their mission statement reads:

 “This association is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.”

You can follow what the Bad Ass Teachers are doing through their Facebook page.

Perhaps the place where the teachers who are the most Bad Ass live right now is Mexico. The President is pushing a No Child Left Behind type of agenda, and the teachers aren’t standing for it. They have been on strike and protesting by the thousands since August 19. They’ve blockaded a road to the airport and closed other forms of transportation. They are currently occupying a plaza in Mexico City.

College-age youth are organizing across the country, recognizing that the same ideas behind the much-hated No Child Left Behind are being pushed on higher education. They see the Obama administration focusing on measurable outcomes like graduation rates without addressing the deeper issues of funding, tuition, debt, adjunct professors and access.

Students at Cooper Union in New York City continue their struggle to bring the school back to its hundred-year mission of free education for all. They’ve formed a working group to study an alternative solution rather than charging tuition, and the Reverend Billy is giving them a hand. The value of free education to society is far-reaching, as this student writes, because it makes education possible for those who have a deep desire to learn but lack the funds to pay for it.

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