Monday, January 16, 2012
Martin Luther King Jr. and education reform: what would he say about the attack on teacher unions and class size?
On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, too many of our elected leaders are using this day as an opportunity to attack teachers and their unions, and put in a system which would lead to 50 percent of NYC teachers to be fired at struggling schools, if the UFT does not succumb to the DOE’s demand to impose an evaluation system with no safeguards against unfair or abusive principals and no appeals.
Let us remember that MLK Jr. was highly supportive of unions and the right of their members to collectively bargain and have the right to due process. Let us all remember that many of these same oligarchs who are now scapegoating teachers actually favor increasing class size at a time when NYC schools still have the largest class sizes in the nation – despite the fact that smaller classes is of the few reforms proven to work to narrow the achievement gap. I wrote more about this last year on MLK Jr. birthday here.
There is little doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. would support a far different agenda: one that was supportive of teachers, integration, and equitable resources and conditions in inner city schools, including smaller classes.
Bayard Rustin was another brilliant civil rights leader, who promoted non-violent resistance and acted as a mentor for MLK Jr. In 1964, Rustin gave a speech (link also for the audio) in which he pointed out that many public schools were still inferior; stuck
“a 19th century school system, incapable of dealing and educating people for the 20th century. … It is quite clear to anyone, from the debate today, that it is Negroes after their share of the cake that has catapulted the true discussion of an American school system, adequate for the technological revolution, etc.”
He specifically about how inner city schools were inadequate in part as a result of their large classes:
The school system of this country is a bad school system for many reasons, but one of the reasons in our large cities, take Harlem for an example, teachers teach three sessions within the regular period. They become cops, they become babysitters, they become nursemaids.
He suggested that more Black New Yorkers be hired as assistant teachers:
“…..if we can get many more schools built, if we can get smaller classrooms, I mean a smaller number of children in classrooms, these people can play a very vital role.”
Instead, the ruling class --the one percent -- who are running our schools are intent on imposing a class-based system, in which poor children are relegated to large classes, and taught by computers through a mechanized system, while their own children receive the actual personalized attention and the critical thinking skills that can only come through questioning and debate.