Helen Gym has announced her candidacy for a city council at large seat this week. I was fortunate to attend her announcement and much of what I write today is from her speech that day. Helen called for the re-energizing of the social contract that has been shredded recently by the casino capitalism of a privileged few. Her call for a community based agenda to inhabit City Hall brings hope for programs that she referenced in her speech – sensible criminal justice policies, paid sick leave, minimum wage being delivered to city contractors and subcontractors, preservation of local communities so that stadiums and casinos are not placed in the middle of them, a viable Land Bank, and a vision of public education that is a compact between all of the people who believe in a just and civil society.
I first met Helen Gym in the 1990’s when as a teacher at Strawberry Mansion I worked with her and many other teacher colleagues in writing a set of standards to be used in the School District. Even then the district suffered from criminal underfunding, but there was still a belief that teachers, parents and students should have a voice in developing standards. We worked hard and long hours to write a thoughtful set of standards and although our success was limited, those voices were deemed important to that conversation. We even tried to get the district to adopt an ‘opportunity to learn’ standard. That standard emerged from a national movement (that is still functioning!) that saw opportunity to learn as honoring the diverse ways that students learn, supported best classroom practices and research, and addressed the necessary conditions and resources needed for successful learning in our schools. Looking back now that language seems a bit naïve, and unfortunately some of the ideas have been co-opted by the charter and voucher school reformers (alleged reformers) and transformed into a demonizing of the teaching profession. We were not successful as I recall in getting the district to adopt an opportunity to learn standard. Perhaps the time is right to renew that call.
Helen Gym calls for a moral agenda that fights for transparency, immigrant communities, community based policing, fair economic policies and public education. She is a candidate that speaks truth to power and brings passion, wisdom, and experience to her run for office. Join her in rejecting the punishing narrative of blame and failure that has showered our students, parents and teachers and be a part of the reclamation of our joint lived community in Philadelphia.