(An insight into the problems & pitfalls of coalition building. – promoted by countrycat)
Fordham professor Mark Naison, aka Notorious PhD, is proud to be badass, and he thinks our nation’s public school teachers are pretty badass too. Teachers are pushing back against the High Stakes Testing that stresses children, threatens educator jobs and closes schools. They love their students but resent the corporations and foundations that stand ready to privatize every aspect of public education, and they bear witness to the political decisions that siphon away the support students need to thrive. Yet teachers are maligned, and their knowledgeable voices are often squelched in public education discussions.
Convinced that teachers (with academic freedom and adequate funding) have what it takes to solve the problems they face, Naison co-founded the Badass Teachers Association. The Facebook page launched in June 2013 swelled in three weeks to over 21,000 members , a broad-based, “multi-partisan” coalition of Badass Teachers, aka BATs.
When over 21,000 teachers from fifty states start talking about the problems they face in their schools, some diversity of opinion is bound to emerge. Discussions and micro-discussions raged about everything from poverty to Citizens United, from Piaget’s stages of child development to the impact of the civil rights movement on schools, with lots of complaints about bad guys like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Arne Duncan. 21,000 teachers can tie an awful lot of topics to public education. Out of BAT chaos, common themes revealed themselves. People made friends and created alliances with teachers in other states.
Most teachers resent the pressure to “teach to the test.” Some are trying to figure out how to adapt their lessons to the new Common Core Standards, while others are completely opposed to Common Core. Very many see the Common Core Standards as a Trojan horse that will bring along “corporate reform.” Badass Teachers hate corporate reform, a package deal of High Stakes Testing (HST) , Value Added Modeling (VAM) that ties teacher pay or employment to test results, and scripted lesson plans (such as from Pearson Learning) that do not allow for teacher autonomy. They would rather have fair assessments designed by teachers, not standards driven by big business and the Chamber of Commerce, and tied to the punitive “accountability” framework.
Corporate influence in education is of primary concern to BAT and should be of concern to everyone. The Huntsville City School System provides an example of what a corporate takeover of a school system looks like, with its Broad Academy superintendent, Gates computers, Appleton staffing, Pearson curriculum, and so forth. Huntsville exemplifies what BAT hopes to prevent. See more about the Huntsville City Schools Superintendent’s relationship with Pearson here and the Army here.)
Common Core is the hottest topic in anti-corporate reform. Depending on where they live, most Badass Teachers oppose Common Core Standards, while some like them better than their state standards and others are resigned to them regardless of their opinion. Despite passionate disagreement, those aren’t the differences that stirred up such noxious guano in BAT-land this past week. The interjection of Tea Party ideas did that. Posts like “Michelle Bachman is a Badass Teacher” created inflamed frustration among sincere problem-solvers, while moderators and others defended such tripe as part of the “diversity” with which we should show “unity.”
There are two main strands of opposition to Common Core. For science-based thinkers along the “blue state” end of the political spectrum, opposition has to do with concerns about privatization, academic standards ill-matched to children's developmental stages, and curtailed teacher autonomy. But from the libertarian or Christian fundamentalist “red” right, the critique could be summarized something like: “Common Core is Obama’s atheist communist plot to trick us into indoctrinating our children and stealing their data like Big Brother. As usual, our only salvation is in state’s rights and church schools.” So far in Alabama, that second strand provides the main thrust of resistance to Common Core. Rational teachers and parents who object to Common Core have been aligning with the former because, who wants to be identified with the latter?
Well— Mark Naison and his colleagues, the founders of the Badass Teacher’s Association, that’s who. Naison advocates the concept of an “Occupy/Tea Party” coalition that includes Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians to take on the corporations and government entities that threaten education, and, at least as of this writing, July 13, 2013, he hasn’t let the idea drop. Under his leadership, the explanatory platitude being offered around BAT is the triangulating notion that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s like having a high-stakes gambler navigating a potentially mutinous ship. No one really knows yet who-all will arrive where when.
The main problem with this risky behavior is that the “Occupy/Tea Party” strategy has a different meaning in a red state than in a blue state, and some BATs say it wasn’t even all that successful in New York where the questionable idea was hatched. The Alabamians gathering under the broad-umbrella of reactionary Republican politics– the creationists, the racists disguised as states rightsers, the voucher people—have end-game values more aligned with the Republican corporate reformers (and their Democrat cronies) who want to privatize as much public school money as possible. The tea party does not share goals with the left. In a state like Alabama, with starved budgets, high stakes testing and “failing” public schools—corporate reform policies play right into rightwing Christian fundamentalist Tea Party hands (and if that is “name-calling,” so be it.) But, hey, they bolster the membership rolls of BAT! And numbers count to a high-stakes gambler.
Progressive-thinking BATs, history-minded BATs, socially conscious BATs, people aware of the old Southern Strategy to turn southern racists into Republicans, and people who can recognize astroturfing when they see it , all started pushing back. The TP posts got worse.
Then, as Mark Naison lounged on a cruise ship in the Caribbean this past week, trigger-happy BAT administrators started kicking out progressives. Occasionally there were reasons like “rudeness” or “divisiveness,” or in my own case, it was my supposed “hateful” religious “intolerance” that got me banned from the Alabama group. In the latest purge, some were accused of being Teach for America shills, but few expelled BATs received any explanation at all.
Now, alternative and spin-off groups are springing up. After being booted from BAT for “attitude,” Richard Sugerman started a small group for more focused discussions without certain derailment, Progressive (Formerly Badass) Teachers Coalition. Another spin-off group, Blame Teachers First, is a place to get silly without being reprimanded, a refuge from the batshit craziness of administrators who, the first week, prided themselves on the edginess of calling themselves “Badass,” only to devolve by the third week into admonishing others to show “respect ” by not using “derogatory” shorthand like “baggers” or “TP.” These digressions and diversions over juvenile issues like name-calling at times appeared to be designed on purpose to prevent authentic dialectical discussion. The people who tried hardest to explain that the contradictions inherent in this awkward “coalition” were important matters of principle were hounded, alienated, or blocked unless they learned to keep their dissent to themselves.
BAT has some relatively high-profile support, from authors like Kris Nielson who wrote Children of the Core, and Karen Jennings Lewis, leader of the Chicago Teacher’s Union. Perhaps the best known anti-corporate style reformer to shout out has been Diane Ravitch, who wrote in her blog , “I was uneasy with the name, but I got over it. “ Since Ravitch understands that “We live in a time when entrepreneurs are eyeing the schools and their budgets as a source of profit, a chance to monetize the children, an emerging market,” it will be interesting to see what she thinks of the squelching of independent, progressive voices in BAT who understand this problem, in exchange for keeping the Tea Party crowd. Tim Wise is the latest ally on BAT’s potential enemy list because he is doing anti-racism training with the “scabs” of Teach for America. He explains his position here. Yet the Tea Party is a welcome part of the coalition because they hate Common Core with a passion. Kris Nielson is scheduled to speak against Common Core at Alabama Protestant churches in August.
Will Ravitch continue her support of the Badass Teacher’s Association? Will BAT manage to keep the Teachers but get rid of the Bad and the Asses? Or will the entire colony get wiped out by brown nose disease? Regardless of what happens, Alabama parents of all persuasions can give their children a break by opting out of testing.
Jane DeNeefe is the author of Rocket City Rock and Soul: Huntsville Musicians Remember the 1960s, and coauthor of Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom. She tutors reading and writing at Space City Learning Lab in Huntsville, Alabama.