As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.
Today, I genuinely feel honored that two educators I have long admired have agreed to answer questions about the upcoming Save Our Schools March and Call To Action — July 28th to the 31st. Nancy Flanagan has been sharing important insights for years at her blog at Education Week, Teacher In A Strange Land, and I have often shared her posts here. Sabrina Stevens Shupe is a Colorado teacher who has been sharing her own thoughtful insights at her blog, Failing Schools, and at The Huffington Post. Both are key organizers of the March.
Can you tell a little about yourselves — your connection to education, why you became teachers, where you’re based, etc.?
[Nancy] I am a music teacher–now retired–and spent my entire 31-year career teaching in Michigan. I’m a National Board Certified Teacher and was Michigan’s Teacher of the Year in 1993. Those two experiences pushed me into a passion for pursuing teacher leadership on a bigger stage. In America, we continuously make education policy without asking for serious input from the people who actually do the work.
[Sabrina] I am a relatively new urban elementary school teacher in Colorado, who’s taken this year off from the classroom to focus on advocacy and activism. I went into education for a number of reasons, but mainly because I see teaching as a way to affect change in society. I want to help children in low-income communities have the same kinds of empowering educational experiences students receive in wealthier/private school communities. Right now, though, our education reform movement is set up to give them the exact opposite.
What is the Save Our Schools March and why is it being organized?
[Nancy] A national march is an audacious thing to do, isn’t it? It’s become increasingly clear that the policies that shape the work of educating our next generation are headed in the wrong direction. Parents hate narrowed curriculum and over-emphasis on testing. School leaders hate having the federal government take apart programs that have yielded good results. And teachers feel maligned when their efforts to reach every child are denigrated by the media and the government.
[Sabrina] Exactly. Overall, no matter what kind of public school stakeholder you are—parent, teacher, student, community member—the trend right now is that people far outside of the hardest-hit public schools are the ones defining the problem and the “solutions,” not the people who actually know what these schools are facing. As a result, a lot of the “reforms” we see are incredibly counterproductive. And when we speak out against that, we’re dismissed. The March is about saying no to that dismissal. It’s about the true stakeholders coming together to assert our right to set the course of education reform and policy in our communities.
What are you hoping might result from the March?
[Nancy] The March is just a first step, the kick-off of a long-term campaign to reclaim and strengthen public education. None of us who are planning the March see it as anything more than an opportunity to capture the public’s attention and imagination. We hope it might come as a wake-up call to policy-makers: We can’t legislate our way out of a wildly inequitable public education system. We need full participation from parents and professional educators to rebuild our system–but it’s worth the effort and expense.
What are the best ways people can participate in SOS activities?
[Nancy] Everyone can participate. While we’re hoping for a great turnout in Washington D.C. on July 30 for the Rally and March–and the pre-conference on July 28 & 29 for those who would like to learn more and network–we know that a trip to Washington D.C. isn’t feasible for everyone. Several states and cities are planning their own live events. But simply joining the conversation–at our website, through social media, in local newspapers and in the staff lounge–is something everyone can do.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?
[Nancy] This is truly a grass-roots movement. The majority of our donations come from small donors– teachers and parents who are fed up with what NCLB has done to their schools and children, giving $5 or $20 at a time. We are not a powerful organization with media consultants and clients to satisfy. We’re just a group of diverse citizens who are enormously unhappy with what’s happening to one of America’s best ideas: a free, high-quality public education for every child.
[Sabrina] Agreed. I think it’s important for people to understand that. There are a lot of Astroturf organizations popping up in education, that make lots of good-sounding statements but their agendas will hurt public education more than help it. They don’t really give regular people a voice; you’re there to make their agenda look like it has popular support. That’s not how we do things.
But not having corporate money and political connections means that we—regular, ordinary people—have to step up and do the work. We all need to be a lot more active and engaged than many of us have been in the recent past, if we’re going to make a real and positive difference for our public schools. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s incredibly important.
Thanks, Nancy and Sabrina!