I'm excited to see, hear, and learn at the 2011 Netroots convention that lands in Minneapolis this week. The convention is a blizzard of forward thinking and technologically adept social learning opportunities for those of us that believe we can organize the world - for good. On Friday there will be a break out called "Engaging Progressives in the Fight to Save Public Education." The question of how we might engage the public around the development of children - especially those that struggle in a color coded statistical trap - is bigger than any other we might answer.
Unfortunately, with all of the promise that I see in the Netroots focus on information sharing about messaging, organizing, technology, and progressive politics, I also see education for them is framed in the same retrogressive labor-first worldview that is too démodé to be called "progressive."
Consider this description of the break out session...
"Education "reform"--under the No Child Left Behind Act--has established a standards-and-testing regime that still lingers today. It is characterized by a punitive approach to public education that threatens teacher professionalism, pushes schools into privatization schemes and undermines the quality of education-especially for poor and underserved children."
The inaptitude of progressives and liberals to adopt the language of child primacy in education debates is a sad betrayal their own principles. Their cheap insistence that today's education struggle is primarily an issue about teacher's rights and the defense of government as a sole educational channel makes stark the order of things, even in the Netroots Nation. Labor first and children are only subsequent afterthoughts.
It is at least a little silly that individuals that likely succeeded in passing all the markers of learning in a "standards-and-testing regime" would believe that the expectation that children of color and poor children should be able to to do the same is somehow "punitive." And, to consider it an assault on "teacher professionalism" rather than an instrument of social justice through universal expectations for children borders on grotesque mission confusion.
"This panel will spotlight the global, neoliberal push to commercialize and privatize American public education. We will discuss the key underlying factors driving the so-called school reform movement, including efforts to de-professionalize teachers, open up the sector for profit-making, stratify educational opportunities and undermine unions as a base of support for Democratic candidates."
Knowing that Netroots Nation values messaging and communication one must assume that their language hear is a tight telling of their reckoning of the education battle. Sadly, much like the numerous unions sponsoring their event they virtually ignore children. For them - like many "progressive" that face none of the challenges poor communities - the chief problem is not a struggle to better educate children. They believe the burning concern is what they see as an attempt to "undermine unions as a base of support for Democratic candidates."
We have heard this union constructed message for years. Frankly, it's tired.
The idea that school innovation as a means for social justice is reducible to a right-wing attempt to ruin public education has only been updated by the inclusion of "neoliberals" as a target for unionized counteraction. That results from the fact that so many on the vanguard of school change efforts are now life-long Democrats with impregnable left-of-center credentials and an untiring focus on delivering better results from the kids that were ignored in the pre-NCLB world.
Who wants to travel back to the days of a unionized government monopoly; back to the good old days according to born again neo-unionists like Diane Ravitch. The accusation that billionaires (read: Bill Gates) want to "commercialize" and "privatize" American education, a message that Ravitch evangelizes, is a bit silly when you consider her command of $20,000 or more for a speech.
It gets more absurd when assessing the enormous outlay her unionist supporters pump into marketing and lobbying efforts to protect their status as the unmovable force in education.
Lost in all of this is the child, their parent, and their community. Looking at efforts like the "Save Our Schools" that was organized by labor and the Netroots panel that will talk about the "fight" for public education, one must wonder when they will enact a mission to "save" children and "fight" for an end to the diminishing of their lives?
Where in this discussion is the internationally recognized human right of a free and effective education that prepares children to participate in a democratic society?
There is a clear body of evidence that school reform seeking to organize parents and students around their own school solutions are the most durable. Engaging parents, families, and stakeholders with the most to gain or lose is the missing link here.
One would expect that professional organizers would open their conventions and their well-funded efforts to save communities to the very people that live in them. That would be a better "progressive" cause, one more aligned with what "progressives" are supposed to stand for - right?
It would be unfortunate for them completely dismantle their philosophical credibility by continuing to ignore that children are the condicio sine qua non of education debates. Especially the children that are predictably on track for exile from the American mainstream, mostly because advocacy fails their color, culture, and humanity.
Unfortunately it isn't so. Too often these efforts are governed by a sense of knowing what is best for people that are not in the room.
That is old school liberalism, not resolutely not "progressive."