Tag Archives: Civil Disobedience

No Money for Poor Children

Sorry Mr.Gingerbread Man, Pharaoh Bloomberg has rated you ineffective.

Sorry Mr.Gingerbread Man, Pharaoh Bloomberg has rated you ineffective.

A freshman student of mine sheepishly walked into class last week holding a box over which she draped a sweater. It was obvious she was hiding something nefarious. I asked her what was in the box and she revealed one of those giant fundraiser packages of chocolate. Apparently, she was trying to raise money for some after school club in which she was involved.

Her efforts to raise money that day fell far short of her goal. This is because she was told that she could not sell chocolate in the school. Apparently, chocolate is too fattening to be sold in Pharaoh Bloomberg’s Department of Education. This was the reason she was given at least.

However, a colleague in another school ran into a similar problem when they were trying to fundraise by selling bottles of water. The excuse given this time, which is the real reason why we cannot have fundraisers in our schools anymore, is that the water was not from a DOE-approved vendor.

This is the part of mayoral control that rarely gets spoken about. The school closings, co-locations and systematic harassment of teachers are only the most visible and disruptive manifestations of mayoral control of urban school systems. However, there are the countless day-to-day reminders that our system is under the sway of one man, a man who has never been in touch with those he is controlling. The banning of school fundraisers is one of the most insidious affects of mayoral control on our schools.

Bloomberg has turned our schools into little more than conduits of money for his corporate friends. When a Pharaoh/Mayor slashes funding to public schools every year, he leaves the schools with little choice but to fundraise to support the programs they need. Yet, since the products with which they fundraise, whether they be brand-name chocolates or homemade cookies, are not on the DOE’s list of “corporate friends of Bloomberg”, they cannot be sold on school property. This amounts to a corporate levy on poor people. The worst part about this levy is that it redirects money that the community would normally use to uplift itself into the pockets of billionaires. So children of NYC, you cannot have enrichment activities because the CEO of Pepsi needs your money to buy another few yachts.

Many years ago I was the senior advisor at my previous school. My job was to handle all of the senior activities: trips, prom, graduation and yearbook. Since the poverty rate of my seniors was exactly 100%, I made a vow that I would fundraise enough money so the kids would not have to pay for any of those things. I had worked up a good relationship with the owners of the bodega across the street. Throughout the year, they purchased all types of goodies for us at wholesale prices (for which we reimbursed them) and we made more money than I could have ever imagined.

I am not going to lie, what we were selling was horrible from a health standpoint. We sold cookies, airheads, jawbreakers, Sour Patches and even sugary sodas. This was back in the days before Bloomberg was trying to get NYC on a health kick. My principal had no problem with our operation. Then, one day, she came to me and said that our operation was cutting into the profits of the lunchroom staff who were selling cookies of their own. She asked me to work things out with the cafeteria’s supervisor.

The only thing I needed to know about the cookies they were selling was whether the profits went into the staff’s pockets. While I understood my seniors needed money, I also understood that it is tough to support a family working in a school cafeteria. When I was told that none of the money went into the pockets of the hardworking people in the lunchroom, I informed them that all bets were off. I was going to continue selling our goods. If the DOE wanted to make an issue out of poverty-stricken children trying to raise money for their senior year, I would ensure that every community group and civil rights organization would hear of it. Thankfully, nobody tried to bust up our operation and we had a tremendous year.

There is something wrong with the idea that we had to look over our shoulders while raising money. At times, I felt we were treated as if we were selling illegal drugs instead of junk food. There was a sense that the system did not want us to succeed. This was many years ago when the fundraising game was wide open. I cannot imagine what things are like now after Bloomberg’s war on sugary drinks and his compiled list of corporate cronies.

If NYC had more principals like Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who has been standing up against the excessive testing of our children, they could make a concerted effort to stand against Bloomberg’s ban on fundraising. If enough principals around the city openly defied Bloomberg’s ban on homemade brownies and brand-name chocolates; if they looked into television cameras and said they are forced to do this due to budget cuts; if they frame it as an issue of doing what is right by the children in their school, there is no way that they could fail. Bloomberg certainly cannot arrest them, although administrators being led out of their schools in handcuffs for selling chocolate sadly seems like a plausible scenario in today’s DOE. He cannot fire them all, even though he could certainly make things difficult for the defiant schools. At the end of the day, there would not be much that Bloomberg could do aside from watching his approval ratings plummet some more.

It might not be the right time for NYC principals to take a stand against the evaluations but it certainly is the right time for them to take a stand against the effective ban on fundraisers. A simple bake sale where parents and children bring all of the homemade sugary sweets they can concoct to school could turn into a real media event. It cannot lose. Bloomberg trying to shut down bake sales and fundraisers would make him look ridiculous and more heavy-handed than usual. If this can be done, it might fuel more acts of civil disobedience. It would be a fitting kick in the pants to Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

Unfortunately, this is all pie-in-the-sky talk. NYC principals by and large are all too eager to enforce every little mandate coming down from Tweed. That is the other part of mayoral control. The only way to survive and progress in the system is to support the Pharaoh’s policies without question. There will not be any resistance to Danielson or MOSL or bans on innocuous fundraisers made necessary by budget cuts. It will continue to be a mindless bureaucracy until there is a changing of the guard at the top of the pyramid.

The New Civil Disobedience

As I have said before, teachers, parents and students who care about  preserving public education have been backed into a corner where the only weapon they have left is their bodies.

A quality education has come to be seen as a human right. Despite the fact it is not written into the Bill of Rights, we have learned that education is a hallmark of a functioning and healthy democracy. As citizens, we have come to expect a quality education as our due.

This is why the corporate education reformers have been winning the public debate. They have clothed their privatization schemes in righteous rhetoric about our children being entitled to great schools. They have used their wealth and political power to beat teachers and their unions into submission. In New York, as well as in many other states, they have created a new regime that forces all children to be nothing but test-takers focused on short-term goals. It is no coincidence that the hedge-fund managers and Wall Street bankers were lauded for their short-term thinking of turning fabulous profits overnight.

That was until the economy crashed.

Yet,  they want students to spend 13 years of their lives doing little more than preparing for the next exam. The only number that will matter is the next number they receive on the next bubble-in test. Sounds just like Goldman-Sachs or AIG executives who see no further than the next financial quarter.

Parents across the country are making the connection between the push for more education “data” and the push for ever-higher quarterly earnings on Wall Street. Much like the data of quarterly earnings, the data of testing does not reflect much real value at all. They are arbitrary, incomplete and, sometimes, out-and-out fudged numbers that fuel a myopic system where only a few reap any real benefits.

That is why a National Opt-Out movement is developing. Parents who are involved in their children’s educations, as well as teachers who are aware of what education reform really means, are pushing to keep their kids home on test days. At the very least, they are calling for students to hand in blank exams so the private education data companies (Like Joel Klein’s Wireless Generation), have no data to mine.

National Opt-Out is the new incarnation of civil disobedience. Much like the Civil Rights protestors of the 50s and 60s, National Opt-Out seeks to disobey an unjust regime by using their bodies to bring that regime to a halt. They are defending one of our most cherished civil rights: the right to an education.

A recent article on the New York City Public School Parents website examines the problems with measuring kids by data and gives a sense of the growing frustration that is fueling National Opt-Out.

Also, do not forget to show up to the discussion surrounding the New York State teacher evaluation deal and the role of standardized testing therein. It will take place this Tuesday at 5:30 pm at Murry Bergtraum High School.

From NYC Public School Parents:

As wehavespokenout against high-stakes testing this year, after our family was first directly affected by it through our third-grade son, we have had the wonderful experience of connecting with like-minded parents in New York and across the country who are also determined to put education back into the hands of educators.

We have also heard from many teachers who, unlike parents, are often under the direct threat of being fired for speaking out against run-away testing in our schools. We would like to put forward, with her permission, the thoughts of one such teacher working in Brooklyn. What follows are her words, taken from our recent correspondence with her, with comments from us interspersed in italics.
We wish this teacher’s experiences were unusual. But increasingly this is the norm in our public schools. Professional educators across the country are being prevented from exercising their best professional judgment and are actually punished for responding to children as individuals –all in the name of “standards” and “accountability.”
Our position is simple: we want our children to be educated by teachers like this one, who care about children and learning, who recognize and protest counterproductive teaching methods that are forced on them by the state. We will not rest until parents and teachers are once again in charge of education policy, and teachers are free to use their knowledge and expertise to make learning the joyous experience it should be for all our children.
If you are interested in this issue, please attend the forum Tuesday night, April 17, at 5:30 pm, on the new teacher evaluation system and high-stakes testing at Murry Bergtraum HS; moreinfoattheChangestheStakeswebsite. – Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols
Read the article here.