Education Reform Groups, What Their Purpose Should (and should not) Be

August 22, 2014

BATs and why I left their group:

About a year ago, I found a great teacher advocacy group called BATs (Badass Teachers.) They were fighting to end Common Core, protect teacher due process (tenure), and basically to put an end to non educators making all the decisions about what goes on in our classrooms. They had a march on Washington last month which was attended by about 500 of the 50,000 members, and a select few got to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I enjoyed one of their latest big actions, which was “swarming” Whoopi Goldberg’s twitter page regarding her ignorant comments about teacher tenure.

But then something happened to change their focus: A white police officer in Ferguson shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. The group’s Facebook page became flooded with images of the boy and posts condemning the officer for his racist actions. Many of us asked why the group was focusing on this news story when our focus was education reform. One founder of the group insisted that because racism was so prevalent in schools, this was the focus of their group.

Well, I have several problems with this. One member, Brad, (I wish I could remember his last name), asked: aren’t we fighting for due process? Doesn’t the police officer deserve the same due process that we teachers are fighting for? When a student , parent, or administrator makes a claim against us, all we’re asking for is the chance to defend ourselves before being fired. This police officer is facing much larger consequences. Doesn’t he deserve a fair trial before we condemn him? Brad left the group after his question was answered with accusations that if he really felt this way he couldn’t possibly be a good teacher, and he was a racist to boot. Really? He tried to explain that being pro due process doesn’t mean being against Michael Brown, or for racism. I tried to defend Brad, but soon realized there was no way to change an angry mob’s opinion. They were fueled by anger and weren’t being rational.

It’s a cliché, but there are two sides to every story. We know a shot went off in the police car. Did the officer pull Brown into his car, or did Brown fight his way in and reach for the gun? We know the officer sustained injuries to his face during this confrontation in the police car. Witnesses have said Michael Brown left the police car, ran away, and put his hands up. Some say this is when he was shot. Others say after putting his hands up briefly, Brown then ran straight at the officer, and this is when he was killed. Until there is a trial to sort this all out, we just don’t know. There are those who will argue that a trial won’t be fair, and that the unarmed teenager didn’t have his chance to a trial before being killed. These arguments are true, but in a civilized society, we should do our best to refrain from judging someone until we know all the facts. As a journalist and educator, I believe firmly in hearing and telling both sides of a story before making an educated conclusion. I am shocked and disheartened that such a large group of educators in BATs hasn’t done this.

Finally, even if this is a case of pure racism and the officer is as guilty as they come, it shouldn’t be the focus of an education reform group. As we can see from the protests happening in Ferguson, there are many many people fighting racism. If you have read my book, you know I was a strong advocate for my students and stopped prejudice in all forms whenever I saw it. After 9/11, I didn’t allow my Hispanic students to call my Muslim ones “terrorist”. I didn’t allow a substitute teacher to call my newcomers stupid or crazy because they couldn’t speak English. Racism is wrong, but it isn’t the fight the Badass Teacher’s association came together to win. We care deeply about our students, but need to be selfish in our fight for education reform if we want to stop the excessive testing, impossible standards, and bullying that has made it impossible for teachers to do their jobs and for students to learn. And this is the reason I, with much reluctance, left BATs.

 

What Now?

My Facebook feed has now grown quiet. I am no longer getting constant posts about the racism in Ferguson, but I am also no longer part of a group of people fighting for teacher rights.

I came across a group yesterday that may be what I am looking for. Their page name on Facebook is NYC Public Schools: Money Over Age, and a post states that they are “A community of mainly NYC educators, parents and citizens fighting for teacher rights.” The group was started by a teacher of 30 years who was aged out of the profession. Their main fight is to stop ageism in schools, to stop forcing teachers out when they become too expensive due to the length of their career. This is a fight I can join. We should revere and protect teachers who have years of experience in the field and who have changed countless students’ lives. But I don’t know if this group shares my interest in putting an end to Common Core and excessive testing. The group founder, Jeff Storobinsky, has told me their rally call is “teachers fighting for teachers,” so hopefully they do share these interests.

MOA is now up to 7,500 followers and has a goal of 10,000. When they reach this goal, they will explore buying radio time to further the group’s reach. I have joined their group and ask others reading this to join as well if you are interested in education reform. Simply find “NYC Public Schools: Money Over Age” on Facebook and click “like.”

If there are other groups my readers are aware of that may meet my educational reform interests, please let me know.

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