The scene was full of red t-shirts, red signs that included “free public education,” to “smaller class sizes.” I arrived, with my colleagues at Compton Education Association, in solidarity with LAUSD union. There were all generations, from the elderly to children in scrolls, who came to march besides United Teachers of Los Angeles. The march began in Grand Park and ended at The Broad Museum. The purpose of the march was to show the city, school board, and other political decision makers the seriousness of teacher demands; furthermore, that the repercussions will be to close down the district. Teachers demanded an equitable negotiation of contract, which includes: increase in pay, smaller class sizes, more arts opportunities, and mental health support. Alongside teachers were nurses, counselors, parents, children, other union workers--all in solidarity to bring quality learning for our students.
The rally evoked past memories of my protesting years in college, when I was attending school in San Francisco. The city marched for the people’s movement, demanding better public service programming for families and youth. We would protest against ICE raides, education, and rent control. The same spirit of equality and liberation that manifested in my early twenties, was the same spirit of movement for the civil riots, and prior to the third world revolutions.
MEANING WELL, BUT DOING HARM--Philanthropy and the Privatization of Schools
What was most compelling about the march was the intergenerational and cross-sector partners involved. Often times, these spirited protests are comprised of youthful revolutionaries, yet this time, it was an older generation that sought the need to organize. We ended the march at The Broad. On their website it states that they have $3 Million to LAUSD to serve as bringing “Equity and Excellence” into our schools. Though this was a generous gesture, the question is who determines what is equitable and excellence? Any grants that go into our public offices and districts, must include a grassroots organizing process of allocating funds. If the company does not fully backup all people, than it is no longer bipartisan and contributes to the privatization of our schools.
The national move towards equity has been intensified with data-driven assessments and building an organization’s narrative through data analysis. The transparency of data has impacted the involvement of companies and organizations in education reform. Philanthropies have taken opportunity in providing grants and investments in increasing growths in student performance and educational opportunities. Though these seed grants have worked on bridging the gap and the nation has seen increase in test scores and provided creative programming for schools, it has created a major issue of privatizing the education system. There are now competing companies that are monopolizing our public programming, creating more boundaries for teachers and educators to be heard. In addition to the recently growing effort to work with schools, seed grants and founders only exacerbate the issue of the dominance of charter networks in schooling. Though this is a larger conversation to be had, I will limit the debrief on the conversation about charters to keep focus on this essay.
WHAT NOW: Intersectional Organizing Done Right
Intersectional organizing is a priority in post-Obama elections and current political momentum in policy and governance. More companies, more organizations, more people, means that there is more plurality of voice and experiences represented. However, what do we do now? With all these do-gooders and changemakers who have the resources to invest in public services, it will be imperative for these stakeholders to prioritize community voice. The city needs to begin to set up structures of partnership, so that they include grassroots organizing of community voice. It is the people who live in the neighborhoods, who go through the programming, and who transform the institutions, that should be heard.
THREE MIND SHIFTS WE NEED TO HAVE:
The need for new systems and processes for allocation of funds: For the movement of education reform to progress, all individuals and organizations have to consider the very people on the ground--families, students, educators, and service workers. These are the people who want we to see happy and passionate because they are the ones who experience the learning and transform our schools into communities.
Grass Roots Programming on a Local Level--Including all constituents: Schools belong to the community, as decision making should be a collaborative process in developing learning for our future. Teachers and service workers are imperative voices that need to be on forum that facilitates political dialogue and implements initiatives. The school system’s focus on achievement gap and efficiency has corporatized our communities of learning and destabilized the culture of creativity and intellectual curiosity.
Grant Providers are not Suga-Daddies, but become community members: Partners who are considered “elite” because of their monetary value in our capitalistic ecosystem should be required to engage in community development activities with neighborhood locals and other important constituents. Grant providers are not a part of the banking system, nor investors. However, they are people who believe in a cause and are sharing responsibility in implementation, not just controlling execution through their perceived ideals of what the community needs.