That is the title of this Convention Resolution of the United Electrical Workers which was adopted at their September 2009 Convention and it holds until 2011.
It begins as follows:
One of the first demands of early labor organizations was universal quality education. At a time when only the rich could attend decent schools, labor leaders saw that access to publicly-funded schools was the only way that the working class and the poor could achieve basic literacy skills. Labor leaders knew that education was tied to the ability to organize and exercise political power.
Note in particular in that last sentence that education was tied to the ability to organize and exercise political power. At a time when teachers' unions, among the last large major unions, are under pretty constant attack, it is interesting to read that from a more traditional industrial union.
Please keep reading.
The second paragraph of the Resolution is also worth quoting in its entirety:
We find ourselves in an ongoing battle to prevent not just the erosion, but the outright destruction of public education. That many public schools are inadequately funded means poor equipment, crumbling buildings, and larger numbers of students in each classroom. Rather than fund public education adequately, conservatives push for privatization and subcontracting, practices which reduce jobs, and turns janitors, cooks, maintenance workers, educators, and many others into low-wage contract workers who receive few or low benefits.
The Electrical Workers clearly recognize that the attack on public education is about more than test scores. They rightly recognize the wide range of impacts if the current "reform" agenda goes forth unchallenged.
I will not parse all of the introduction. It is worth noting in questioning the push towards merit pay for teachers one encounters the following:
The No Child Left Behind Act has already shown that universal standards don't work when applied to real-world education, in which students come from different economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
I teach in a major metropolitan area, that of Washington DC. However, I spend enough time in rural America, mainly while volunteering at free medical/dental events, to understand that the needs of rural schools are quite different than those of the cities and the suburbs. Most of the policies adopted for education either nationally or by states tends to ignore these differences. I have dealt with enough English Language Learners to realize that it is cruel to insist on testing them fully in English without modifications after only one or two years of language transition. We should pay more attention to those who work in these and other different situations about the real needs of their students.
The introductory material is very harsh on privatization in this paragraph:
Private commerce has no place in public education. Schools that are starved for funding turn to corporate sponsors for help or contract services out to private companies. Corporate sponsors flood the schools with commercial messages, and undermine teachers' attempts to have students to think critically. Private companies are not responsible to the public for the quality of service they provide. This same commercialism is rampant in public colleges and universities, leaving many vulnerable to intellectual and moral corruption. At the same time, the cost of public education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is becoming more and more prohibitive, putting working and middle class families deeper into debt for services tax dollars are supposed to provide.
Let me focus on 2 sentences of that paragraph: Corporate sponsors flood the schools with commercial messages, and undermine teachers' attempts to have students to think critically. Anyone remember when Channel One came into schools, Chris Whittle's first attempt to commercialize public education? Schools desperate for television equipment had to put up with tv commercials and sanitized news reports. I also think of a cola company that sponsored things at one school objecting to students who wore shirts promoting its rival.
And this sentence - Private companies are not responsible to the public for the quality of service they provide. - brings to mind what we saw with privatization of support services for our troops in Iraq, where some died because of faulty electrical wiring in showers, others got polluted water and worse. There are some aspects of our society which should be considered public goods and not subject to the profit motive, which too often encourages cutting of corners in the hopes of maximizing profits.
The concluding paragraph of the introduction reads as follows:
Public schools, funded adequately and fairly, with certified teachers and full-time faculty, who have long-range educational plans that teach basic skills and critical thinking to all students is the only way to resolve this problem. We support public education because it promotes the best interests of everyone when all members of our society are well educated and able to think independently.
Let me repeat that final sentence: We support public education because it promotes the best interests of everyone when all members of our society are well educated and able to think independently. ALL MEMBERS...ABLE TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY
Here is the actual resolution:
1. Calls upon all levels of the union to demand and promote:
1. Federal funding that achieves an excellent public education at all levels, including early childhood and adult learning programs;
2. Restructuring of federal, state, and local taxation and funding systems so that all public schools are funded fairly, without regard to income levels of local school district residents;
3. A reduction of class sizes to a manageable student-to-teacher ratio at the primary, secondary, and college/university levels;
4. An increase in the salaries of all public elementary and secondary education teachers which reflects the value of their role in educating future members of society;
5. Barring the use of taxpayer-funded voucher programs that siphon off much-needed funds from public schools and route them to private schools;
6. Elimination of high-stakes testing, which pressures teachers and administrators to "teach to the test" or risk financial ruin, and therefore puts tremendous emotional and psychological pressure on children who are forced to endure such high-stakes tests;
7. Removal of commercial/corporate sponsorship that tends to interfere with the academic freedom of students and teachers and the decision-making freedom of elected school boards and other publicly-employed professionals;
8. Preservation and enhancement of the arts, foreign language and multilingual education programs, whose elimination most often hurts poor and working-class children's education;
9. Preservation and enhancement of vocational education programs for adolescents and adults;
10. Full and appropriate services and accommodations for students with disabilities;
11. Full funding of Head Start;
12. Passage of conflict-of-interest legislation that prevents individuals with ties to for-profit schools and to for-profit corporations with school contracts from serving on school boards or boards of regents;
13. Elimination of privatization and contracting out of school services;
14. The teaching of labor history and other aspects of history which present a full view of the economic, social, and political history of the U.S. in public schools, colleges and universities; and support of local labor education centers;
2. Calls on the union to work with other unions and push for a change in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in order to ensure that all employees have the right to unionization;
3. Supports all campaigns which advocate universal access to free public higher education.
Note the final (14th) item under the first major point: The teaching of labor history and other aspects of history which present a full view of the economic, social, and political history of the U.S. in public schools, colleges and universities; and support of local labor education centers - were our young people fully educated in how much they had benefited from the labor movement I seriously doubt even the large political expenditures by the Chamber of Commerce and other right wing corporate entities could so tilt our electoral processes.
This is a strong statement. I am sorry to admit that until recently I was unaware of its existence. Somehow I wish that it had gotten wide distribution before we saw the administration pushing in an entirely different direction, first with Race to the Top, and then with the Blue Print. It could have served to better prepare the ground for an appropriate public discourse on the future of education, perhaps preventing the damage caused by things like "Waiting for Superman" and NBC's Education Summit.
Or perhaps I am too optimistic. Having seen the heavily coordinated efforts on both W4S and the Summit with many of the same players well funded in some cases by organizations that profit from the current direction of "reform" even wide distribution of this statement would not have made a difference.
Maybe it is not too late.
It is a Sunday morning. Tomorrow I return to teaching in a PUBLIC school, that treats education as a PUBLIC good, working among fellow union members - teachers, administrators, and support staff, each in appropriate labor organizations.
Today? I ask that you consider widely distributing the statement by UE. It cannot hurt and may even help some.
Thanks in advance.