Sunday, September 4, 2011

Who are we? A common vocabulary is indispensable to building a movement

Updated: 9AM

The ed deformers have spent a lot of time and money in the branding game. They are reformers. We are status quoers (though that game is wearing thin given that they control so many school systems for a decade or longer and are now the status quo themselves - something we need to point out at every opportunity). In their branding game, they are for children, we are for adults. Another term we need to turn around by showing how the adults like Rhee and Klein and Moskowitz are doing very well on the backs of the children they claim to represent and that teachers and parents who oppose them truly represent children.

One of the goals behind the GEM movie "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" was to turn the tables on the so-called ed reformers by reframing the debate using our terms, not theirs. Thus they are not reformers but deformers, a term I take credit for creating years ago. The current vogue seems to be referring to them as "corporate reformers" and us as the Real Reformers – thus the reason we call the GEM committee that work on the film "Real Reform Studio."

It is important for us to take back the language of reform from the deformers. It is important to label them for what they are - when we talk to people, speak publicly, leave comments on blogs, etc. If you are in a school, hold a seminar on this topic when you get back to school - make these points at union meetings and to parents.

And make sure to challenge the ed deformers on the trashing of class size as a major Real Reform - that's how you can tell the difference between a Real Reformer and an Ed Deformer. I got that insight when I had a mini debate with E4E's Sydney Morris in a bar where she through out the ed deform argument that you can only make a difference if you lower class size to 15 (like ed deformers who pay 30 grand a year for their own kids to get low class size). Sydney argued that there was no real difference between mid-20's and 30, showing the agenda is NOT children first- or teachers either from a group supposedly representing teacher interests.

You can get the best arguments on class size from Leonie Haimson - here is a post on Norms Notes you can use: Unproven Online Learning Fails Test by Ed Deform Standards - Contradictions on Class Size

In going through old email I found this interchange from last June. Leonie Haimson responds to an email titled "Who Are We?":
I have long believed that we need to reclaim that word “reform” for ourselves; we at PAA say we support “progressive education reform.” and oppose “corporate reform” that’s based on privatization, competition, and high-stakes testing. I am starting to use the hashtag #realreform when I tweet (if I have the room.)


Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters/Parents Across America

Who Are We?

The other day a local paper referred those opposed to school privatization and de-professionalization of teachers as “critics of the school reform movement.” I don’t regard privatizing schools, abolishing local democratic control of schools, or replacing qualified teachers with untrained temporary workers as a “reform movement,” especially give the positive connotations that the word “reform” carries. The dictionary definition of reform is 1. to make better 2. to improve by removing faults and or abuses. School privatization is no more a reform movement than the policy to privatize prisons is a “prison reform movement.” Both share the goal of shifting public assets into the private sector and removing publicly funded institutions from direct elected government oversight and accountability.

But the ease with which the media can characterize us as contrarians does raise an important issue. A common vocabulary is indispensable to building a movement. The privatization advocates have done this well, wrapping the market-based model in the language of choice, opportunity, rights, and equality and even arrogating the image of the “new civil rights movement.” This last piece of word play is especially offensive give that the goal of the civil rights movement was to empower dispossessed and disenfranchised people, not steal what little they controlled.

So who are we? What terms should we use as political shorthand that will convey what our goals are? The school privatizers dismiss us as supporters of the “status quo” and the label will stick as long as we don’t reach a consensus on how we define ourselves and that encoded shorthand phrase conveys our vision of education.

In a sense, we are defined by the other opposition—we are resisting “reforms” that don’t make education “better” and don’t remove “faults.” We are “anti-privatization, “anti-business model,” “anti-market-based model” and anti teacher-deproffesionalization. Defining us in oppositional terms may makes sense—the “anti-war” movement had its appeal. But is there a positive, visionary and universal definition that would serve us better; one that would denote our belief in educational excellence, equity, and democracy?

Are we the “school democracy” movement, or is that too narrow and does that not address that democracy by itself is not the solution to the problems of inadequate and inequitable educational funding, high-stakes testing, and poverty? Without a common analysis of the problem and its solutions and a common vocabulary to express those ideas, we allow the other side to define our public image.

So how do we encapsulate the message that we are “status futurum” rather than “status quo”? I am sure that this discussion is occurring in other circles but it would be helpful to engage our growing movement in a public discussion through the internet.

6 comments:

  1. I am glad you are now waking up to the importance of "branding" which is a major part of "marketing"...something in the past you and ICE didn't take very seriously. If you recall, I also took issue with other "terms" you used in your writings like "militant action" or "socialism". These are terms that for many connote negative images. And by using them you will give the deformers (and the majority of teachers and union officials) ammunition against your organization in the future.

    How did the Conservatives get many top Liberals to join their ideology? By giving them the name Democrats for Education Reform.

    The reformers are great marketers...but they have people who advise them much like the people who are helping Gov. Perry revise his language and appeal. Their new labels for teachers leave impressions. If GEM is really serious about their future and long run, you need professional guidance because you can't base your mission statement on ideologies that others view as being too radical. It can't be based on political ideologies either. And yes, Norm, that takes money.

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  2. We are Mindful Reformers, Problem Solvers, Real Reformers, True Reformers, Pioneers of Workable, Sustainable Reform, Humanistic Reformers, The Solution!

    They are delusional deformers, idiotic ideologues, mentally imbalanced wannabe's, fools with power, morons with money, people who can't think out of the cubicle, opportunistic sociopaths and megalomaniacs, the duped and the self-duped, the no-account accountability thugs . . .

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  3. We are the weavers of America's real fabric. We can see and hear clearly. We do not pretend to see the Emperor's new clothes. We are the scarlet letter educators and proud of it, we are emulators of Rosa Parks: it wasn't just that she didn't want to give up her seat on a bus but that she refused to continue participating in her own repression.

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  4. Schoolgal
    It wasn't that I didn't take marketing seriously but knowing the ground n terms of the resources ICE had in the schools (too many core people were retirees) the idea of spending money on publicity and branding would not have been productive - besides the fact there was no money and too few trying to do too much.
    GEM has more potential n terms of a more activist and much younger core but is still far from reaching critical mass.
    In Chicago, CORE reached critical mass so quickly they were then able to do what you say.

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  5. ICE never used FB as a way of gaining support. And all I asked were that you do school mailings at the time. I also recommended Youtube, but because they were not scripted, those turned out to be a bust and I didn't tell my staff about them. Those at least could have generated a lot of appeal.

    By again not turning to marketing and sort of using the same defenses, Julie will be 60!! She, IMHO, is your star and should be the face of GEM.

    Now if she can do a PSA for GEM on Youtube that sticks to a script that ALL TEACHERS CAN RELATE TO, that would be a start. Talk about evaluations, charters, mayoral control, etc. not social issues.

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  6. Luckily I'm no longer making major decisions (retirees shouldn't be in the position I was in ICE) so here's hoping the people who will be running things in GEM with long careers ahead will do what is necessary. I can only give them advice as to what worked and didn't work in the past. I think what you are saying makes more sense today than years ago because the attacks on teachers and the public schools have become so much more intense. But unless GEM and the other groups come up with ways of fundraising it will not be possible.

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