Earlier today, I attended the State of the Union Conference in downtown Manhattan, not far from where I teach. It was organized by the progressive edcuators at the Grassroots Education Movement. As the name of the conference would indicate, a large part of the day was spent assessing the United Federation of Teacher’s complicity in the destruction of public education. I was heartened by the large turnout of teachers and parents. The auditorium was brimming with people, as were all of the individual seminars. I also got to meet many of you, the gentle readers of this blog, and really was taken aback by the support and kind words you had for this little website. All around it was a great day.
The first person I met was Norm Scott. Norm has been a public school activist for a long time, sort of the dean of progressive educators, and it was an honor to meet him. (Check out Norm’s blogs at Ed Notes Online and Norm’s Notes).
After a short introduction in the auditorium, we were allowed to choose from a list of seminars. All of the seminars sounded good and it took me a while to choose to attend the one about the history of the teacher unions. It was conducted by GEM members Michael Fiorillo and Peter Lamphere. I took notes on this here laptop and picked up some very good tidbits on the role of the teacher unions throughout history. Given my history background, it has become impossible for me to wrap my mind around an issue without knowing the history behind it.
The discussion that took place on the heels of seminar was fascinating. There were so many teachers in that room, including old veterans who remember the strike of 1968 and what things were like before the strike. It was no surprise to hear the same themes from back then recapitulated today. I contributed my two cents about the age of corporate fascism in which we currently live. I could have sworn I heard some groans when I started dissing Obama and Clinton.
The second seminar was conducted by Brian Jones on the history of school segregation in NYC. Much of the ensuing discussion revolved around fighting for local control of school boards and bringing in more minority educators. Underneath the surface of this discussion was a tension, really as old as education activism itself, between those who want to focus on the race issue and those that want to focus on socioeconomic class. To me, this is a rift that threatens to divide public education activism. It will be the subject of my next blog entry.
I was not able to stick around for the third seminar. My one regret was not getting more contact information for the people I met. For those interested in staying in contact and keeping the good feeling of today’s conference going, I put my email address in the sidebar of this website. It is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to everyone who organized the State of the Union conference. I am sure this is the first step in a new stage of the battle to retake our public schools.