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We Are Fearless and We Will Not Be Silent

NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen García, after praising those who have supported and worked in concert with her, concluded NEA’s 152nd Annual Meeting with a strong message to those “who don’t know what they’re talking about”: We will not be silent.

“We,” of course, refers to the three million educators who know what’s best for students, learning, and the teaching profession.

The former Utah Teacher of the Year spoke of the practices from the likes of moviemakers, billionaire brothers, and conservative politicians who have made poor decisions on behalf of U.S. students.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia



Why Arne Duncan needs to listen to Bill and Melinda

I do not hate the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  I know it might seem strange to have to make that statement, but such are the times we live in.  I’ve just had too many arguments with too many friends who, when I ask specifically why they are upset with some aspect of educational “reform”, respond, “Well, you know this was funded by the Gates Foundation,¨ as if this was evidence of the Mark of the Devil.

So let me say again… I do not hate the Gates Foundation.  I also feel compelled to state for the sake of balance that I do not love the Gates Foundation.  The Foundation, for me, is not a thing to love or hate.  It is what it is, and it is many things.  It is impossible to put them in some ideological box.

The Gates Foundation funds ideas.  Lots.  And lots.  And lots of ideas.  Some extremely good ideas (meaning I like them) like how to prevent malaria and HIV infection and college success programs in Denver public schools and Michigan and California and Florida and Wisconsin and just about every other State University system and Oxfam and county libraries, and thousands of others.

I had to really search for extremely bad ideas (meaning I didn’t like them) and eventually found the American Enterprise Institute and their teacher evaluation project (which, let’s just be honest, Rick Hess   is going to need some adult supervision.)

But I digress.  Back to Bill and Melinda.  They fund ideas, not ideologies.



Cesar Chavez: An American Hero

Cesar Chavez film poster

“You Can’t Humiliate Someone Who Has Pride. You Can’t Oppress Someone Who’s Not Afraid Anymore.” – Cesar Chavez

Local Associations are going to the movies March 28th and taking friends. Lots of friends. Because they bought out the theater, and for a very good reason. We must pack the theaters and make this film a success.

The premier of the historic Cesar Chavez movie will hit theaters Friday, March 28. Educators are excited that this story is finally being told. Union activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Civil rights activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Faith communities and parent groups and Latino groups and immigrant groups and justice groups and any group of individuals who know about Cesar Chavez’s real story and want others to know about Cesar Chavez’s real story are excited.

I’ll admit, that I’m excited for the same reason all of the above are excited. For as long as I can remember, Cesar Chavez has been my inspiration. I don’t know many heroes who were so ambitious for their cause and so personally humble. I’m not sure people who are familiar with only the Cliff Notes of his life understand the profound goodness of this American hero.

Director Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez dramatizes the pain, the hope, the sacrifice he and his family made. We see the individual heroism of a man, but we feel the collective miracle of the California grape boycott and the thousands who made it happen. Michael Peña brings to life Cesar’s quiet determination to confront injustice. You’ll recognize America Ferrera from TV’s Ugly Betty and Real Women Have Curves, but she is all grown up here and plays Helen, the wife and mother who stands by Cesar when she’s not sure even he really understands the dangers he faces. Rosario Dawson is transformed into the take-no-prisoners, Dolores Huerta. And nobody plays a bad guy like John Malkovich plays a bad guy. And by that I mean he plays the grape-grower as a flawed and arrogant human being, but not as a cardboard villain. You will understand the deep-rooted racism that drives him, but you will also see his confusion as the comfortable world he knows shifts with the Civil Rights tide of the 60s and begins making demands of him with which he must come to terms.


The Busine$$ of Voucher$ vs. Choices that Work For Kids

Years ago, I was talking with a lovely director of a lovely and elite private school about private school vouchers. She was touting what her school had to offer in terms of class sizes of 12, and science laboratories and technology rooms, and truly, it was lovely.

Actual Conversation 15 years ago:

She: Why would you be against allowing poor children the ability to receive a scholarship voucher to attend this lovely school? Don’t poor children deserve the same right as rich children to come to a school like this?

Me: So, I want to understand what you just said. Rich children have a right to come to your school?

She, confused: Excuse me?

Me: Rich children have a right to walk into your office, plunk down their money and demand to be enrolled in your school?

She: Well, of course, there’s a process. There’s an application. There’s a test. There’s a committee. Our standards are very high. It protects the students to make sure they’re a good fit for our program.

Me: So, they have a right to apply. They have a right to show they have high test scores. And they have a right to hope that the committee chooses them.

She: Well, it’s much more than just test scores. We know that even a bright child must have a committed, involved family if he’s going to succeed. Our families have to demonstrate they can provide the necessary home support for the student or we don’t even consider them.

Me: I hate to be thick about it, but I’m also thinking they have to demonstrate they can pay tuition of about $20,000.

She: Well, yes, and that’s where the vouchers would come in. With vouchers, we could reduce the tuition by the amount of the voucher or even use the voucher to subsidize a scholarship. It would give poor children the same rights as our other children!

So, fifteen years have gone by and vouchers are still one of the more shameful and shakiest pillars of school reform nincompoopery.

The privately-funded ultraconservative group ALEC wants to shortchange your children and dismantle public education by robbing them of badly needed funding and giving it to private schools. Its ultimate goal is to privatize public education, which its corporate donors see as a multi-billion dollar industry just ripe for the taking.