I have been reading John Lewis’ memoir “Walking With the Wind” and Taylor Branch’s “At Canaan’s Edge” to refresh my memory about the events surrounding the March from Selma to Montgomery in preparation of seeing the movie “Selma” that has just been released. I have included a picture of the Edmund Pettis Bridge across the Alabama River that I have now visited twice in order to travel the path of history from 1965. I recommend the trip from Selma to Montgomery for anyone that wants to re-new their belief that hope is still alive. The road to travel in my blog entry is an acknowledgement of that march, but the road I am writing about now is the road needed to travel to reach democratically based and equitably funded public schools.
As 2014 draws to a close I thought I might take a few moments and look back at what the year has represented for me. I retired in 2010 after 31 years of teaching in urban public schools, a charter school, and part time at a university. For a couple of years I felt that I needed to distance myself from that teaching. During that 31 years I believe that I tried to advocate for ‘students first’ by pursuing critical pedagogy in my classroom and by building networks of small learning communities with my teaching colleagues. I was also involved with unionizing activities in three different locations that would also support this kind of teaching and learning. There was a price paid for this work and I had to learn to place the welfare of my own teaching position at risk many times. Hence, came the need to ‘take a break’ from the field. In the last year I have been rejuvenated and am now seeking to find a way to re-engage in this struggle by joining with parent, teacher and student advocacy groups, participating in street demonstrations calling for fair funding for public education, communicating with politicians (frustratingly so), and writing on this blog as a way to keep agitating for these goals. I have been reading a lot by Henry Giroux, Diane Ravitch, bell hooks, and Tony Judt to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the forces at play in this struggle.
The charter school movement started with great promise and although I may have been naïve in my thinking it was a time of high energy and bright outlooks. Certainly my own experience was filled with teaching and personal relationships with fantastic colleagues and the students that we came into contact with every day were bright, eager learners full of great promise – many of whom became fantastic successes and still permit me to keep in contact with them and their transformational lives. Many of those colleagues are still teaching in charters and doing wonderful and amazing work, but the charter school movement has devolved into a competitive force with public education – no longer holding the promise of ‘showing the way’ to transform public education by operating on a premise that allowed for the changes that could be translated into public school classrooms. It is a frightful proposition to examine the corporate mindset that has supported charters and I have written about some of these groups in previous blog entries. I hope in future blog entries to write more about my own experiences with the charter school system and examine how pedagogy and the value of teachers has been diminished and reduced to having teachers be little more than replaceable parts.
For now I will continue to search for the best way for me to take part in the growing and energizing movement to support public schools as we travel down that long road to meaningful change.