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Occupy the Education System: Students, Teachers and Parents Find New Spirit and Challenge the Attack on Public Schools

In the past couple of weeks, Occupy Wall Street has spurred dedicated education activists into some of the most innovative and inspiring actions.

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He argued, “The high-stakes test eliminates the connection between life and learning. It’s this remote, very artificial exercise that is given so much importance. Not only do the children’s careers depend on it but now the adults depend on it too.”

Jordan, the 13-year-old speaking at the Occupy the DOE General Assembly, agreed with him. “A test is a one-shot deal, if I forget something I could do bad.”

Teachers' unions have faced blame in New York and elsewhere for the problems with education, but Morrow's school district (and much of Texas) is not unionized and still faces the same crunch. “Teachers really have no power and no voice, they need their jobs and so all kinds of illegal things happen, people find all kinds of creative ways to get around the law, to violate students' rights, violate teachers' rights, violate parents' rights.”

“We’re moving toward a system the same way they did for Wall Street, they want the deregulation of education. They want to get rid of pesky union contracts and let the free market rip. It’s not going to be shocking that we see all kinds of scandals blossom,” Jones said.

But teachers have been at the heart of the resistance that's sparked in this country this year, from Wisconsin to Wall Street. Jones noted that despite what wound up being a loss in Wisconsin, teachers are very proud of the leading role that Wisconsin's educators played in fighting back against union-busting.

“Over the summer I went to at least two different meetings that were meetings of teachers from around the country trying to make these local struggles into a national struggle, trying to connect the dots from these different localities. It’s part of the aftermath of Wisconsin, but it’s also it is a national attack.”

School reformers like Michelle Rhee, who recently charged a university $35,000 for a speech, have claimed success for charter schools—Rhee wants to raise $1 billion to fight teachers' unions. But as Jones noted, scandals have been erupting that disprove some of the claims of success—and the teachers I spoke with feel the system is working just fine for education's 1 percent.

“What would they do if our students were 100-percent college bound? They don't have the financial aid and the resources to fund those kids to go to school,” Frascella said. “What would happen? You'd have more educated people with no jobs. They want people to work in the service industry. Until we create more high-paying, respectable jobs, where are the students going to go, even if they do get a college education?”

Morrow said that some people in her part of the country think the ultimate goal for the Right is the end of public schools entirely. “They want to privatize education so that the school districts will go out of business. Public school is really for poor people, moderate-income people, and everyone else can go to private school and they don't care. It's shown just how little they really care about the education system.”

She continued, “The way they have education finance set up, it's unequal in its conception. It's based off the tax base in your neighborhood, it reinforces the status quo.”

So what can be done? Can Occupy the DOE become a movement that spreads, like its parent movement, around the country and changes the way education conversations happen?

Jones pointed out that the movement's successes thus far make it seem like a time to dream big. “If we can hold Zuccotti Park, what else can we hold? What else should we hold? If we can take over a PEP meeting, what else can we take over? What else should we take over?”