NPE Conference Day 1 Notes

26 Apr

After breakfast at the historic Drake hotel, the proceedings were given a rousing start by the moderator Anthony Cody and the opening speakers, Tanisha Brown of the Newark Students Union and Jitu Brown, National Director of Journey for Justice and an NPE Board member.

Tanisha is a beautiful full of life, idealistic student who is fighting against the corrupt takeover of the Newark public schools by the state of New Jersey and especially the authoritarian control of a former TFA member, Cami Anderson. Tanisha reminded me of the brilliant and talented students from my own high school. It is incredible how insightful and bright a 17 year-old can be.

I was particularly struck by her story of Allen. Allen was a kid from a struggling family who became involved with the Newark Student Union. Allen became discouraged by the injustice being meted out. One day, Allen just quit showing up. When a Union member finally was able to contact Allen, he informed them he was done and had joined a Gang.

Jitu was uplifting and brilliant. Two of his stories resonated with me and one of his conclusions was disturbing but rang true. Jitu is community organizer in Chicago. He told us that community organizing is never ending and vastly deep like the ocean. He said there was once a man from Chicago who claimed to be a community organizer but that he really just dipped his toe in the ocean and when it was cold moved on.

Mr. Brown told the story of staging a 3 year campaign just to get the windows in Einstein Elementary school in Chicago cleaned. He said small victories like that one are important and must be celebrated.

He talked about the kind of value system that made lynching a public spectacle that was celebrated by the dominant society. He said that is the same value system that says it is OK to close community schools. These are the same values that allow people to call today’s school “reform” a civil rights issue. These are not reformers, they are colonizers. “Colonizers are not the civil rights movement; we are!”

During the first session of the day that I attended, I found the opportunity meet and converse with one of my longtime heroines, Debra Meier. What a thrill! In this session the union leader from Little Rock shared how in 5 days they were able to defeat the Walton’s. The key was when they were able to remind the PTA that they stood for community based schools. The Arkansas legislature could ignore teachers, administrators and school boards but they could not ignore the parents.

The next session I went to was with the Tennessee Bats. By the time that was over, I was unbelievably inspired. Larry Profit is amazing and my former colleague, Mary Holden has found a place to make a difference. Their story of standing up to the incredible attack on public education and the fear it has engendered in Tennessee’s education community and now winning more than they are losing was motivating. There recipe of getting everyone involved especially parents was a wonderful message. One teacher said that her association with the Bats “has saved me mentally, emotionally and professionally.”

It’s late so I will write more soon about lunch with Peter Greene and EduShyster, plus the awesome keynote speech by Yong Zhao. In addition, there was an hour plus with the incomparable Mercedes and a wonderful panel on teaching for social justice.

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