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Arne Duncan: Your Voice for a Commodified Education

A Court Victory for Student Free Speech

Earlier this month, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the right of public school students to criticize school policies. The First Amendment Center:

How much of an activist were YOU in 8th grade?

Just say no to standardized tests!
Okay, check out this awesomeness:

More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday's three-hour practice exam for next month's statewide social studies test.

Instead, the students handed in blank exams.

Students Fight for the Right to Protest

Over 250 high school students who staged a one-hour walkout on March 19th to protest the Iraq War are fighting the principal's decision to give them all two day detentions and fighting for the right to free expression in school. From their March 31st press release:

“This detention is unfair, because we were taking a chance to voice our opinions and educate ourselves, which we are not given the opportunity to adequately do so in school,” said Aislinn Bauer, a Princeton High School sophomore and one of the organizers of the walkout. “We’re turning this punishment into something productive.”
“What I do not understand is how we were able to miss three periods to see Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience perform and throw Mardi Gras beads at us, which had little to no educational value,” said Russell Cavallaro, another Princeton High School sophomore. “This walkout actually had educational value. Students were educated on the causes of the war, why it should never have happened, and had a chance to offer their respects to the fallen soldiers.”

The Times also covered the situation:

 

[...] sophomore Aislinn Bauer, said the rally against the war gave students an opportunity that isn't found in the classroom.
During history lessons, she said, it's more acceptable to talk about past events than to discuss conflicts existing today.
"It's as if the teachers don't want to get in trouble or cause problems by engaging in debate that has many different sides. But this war is very real," Bauer said. "We had to take it in our own hands to educate ourselves and others."

I got a chance to talk to Arantzazu Galdos, one of the organizers of the protest. She said that students converged on the Board of Education on the 31st, and presented their case of what happened.

The walkout organizers informed the principal of their impending action well in advance. "He started off telling us that it's alright, and then a couple of days before the walkout he started basically yelling at us," said Galdos. "He said things like 'I can't believe you're doing this,' 'do this on your own time,' and then he turned around and told the press how proud he was" of what they were doing. According to Galdos, Judy Wilson, the District Superintendent, said she frankly didn't believe them.

The students at the walkout signed petitions demanding the school district inform students of their right to opt-out of military recruiting contact lists (No Child Left Behind made it a requirement that high schools share their students' information to military recruiters - making what used to be an opt-in situation an opt-out situation). Another petition demanded the right to speak out on political issues when they are brought up in classes - "political discussion is routinely silenced in class, even when we're talking about an issue," Galdos said.

At the school board meeting, parents and community members also took the time to voice their support for the students. There is a larger board meeting coming up on April 22 at 8pm, and the organizers expect to have a large presence there as well.

This is a great example of thinking globally and organizing locally. Instead of just having a walk-out to protest the Iraq War (which really would do nothing to stop the war itself), they linked the war with issues relevant to the students -- the right to opt-out of being harassed by military recruiters, and the right to freedom of expression in school. That's probably how they were able to get about a quarter of the entire student population out of their classes and on the front lawn (despite the Principal's -- ever vacillating -- disapproval). And now that they have 250 signatures on those petitions, along with students who have materially invested themselves in a previous action (the act of leaving class, and getting detention), the time is ripe for increased organizing in the next few months -- especially at a time where students are getting more and more restless as the summer approaches.

Kudos to the walkout organizers, and I wish them success going forward.

Students Walk Out in Solidarity with Striking Teachers



In the town of Garfield, NJ, where teachers have been working without a contract for months now, hundreds of teachers called in sick to work on the same day, effectively taking part in a wildcat strike. The Record:

Hundreds of students stormed out of Garfield High School Friday chanting, cheering and holding signs in support of their teachers, who have been working without a contract since the end of the last school year.

The brief rally, triggered by a fire alarm around 9 a.m., came a day after 350 teachers called out sick in an apparent protest over the contract negotiations. The district closed schools Thursday.

Students held signs that read, "No Contracts! No Teachers! No Students!" and "Settle Contracts."

"They don’t have any contracts, that's crazy," said one student, standing on Outwater Lane outside the high school.

The fates of students and educators are inextricably linked, and when they act in solidarity with each other against a common threat, wonderful things can happen.

No Education, No Life! The Baltimore Algebra Project Takes Its Fight to Annapolis

Members and supporters of the Baltimore Algebra Project in AnnapolisThe Baltimore Algebra Project is a student-led inter-school coalition of inner city youths in Baltimore, MD. Originally formed as a study group to help students learn after school, it has grown into an activist organization fighting for the right to a good education in inner-cities.

"How to Grow a Free School": Albany Free School at NCOR 2006

Here's a workshop session from NCOR 2006 about the Albany Free School, a radically democratic primary school in Albany, NY. At the Free School, classes as we know them don't exist - nor do grades, for that matter. It's concrete examples like this that show us that radically alternative educational models work, and are effective. Watch below to find out more:
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