Home > Uncategorized > The Similarity Between the Civil Rights Movement and Anti-“Reform” Movement: The Children Are Leading

The Similarity Between the Civil Rights Movement and Anti-“Reform” Movement: The Children Are Leading

Five years ago my wife and I accompanied a group of high school students on a field trip to Birmingham AL to work on a Habitat project. As part of the week-long trip we went to the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist church across the street where the horrific bombings took place in 1963. From that visit we learned the pivotal role that high school students played in the Civil Rights movement and had an opportunity to meet one of those brave students who was then, like me at the time, on the verge or retirement after working for years in public education. While leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr provided the intellectual and moral basis for the civil rights movement, the teenagers in the early 1960s were on the front lines of many of the marches that characterized that movement because their parents would lose their jobs if they participated. So the parents tacitly— and in some cases explicitly— supported their children’s walk outs from school and subsequent arrests and imprisonment. Ultimately, it was the picture of school children being held in overcrowded county jails, being knocked to ground by fire houses, being billy-clubbed by police, and attacked by dogs that caused politicians to wake up to the reality that segregation was unacceptable and the laws that sustained the practices of segregation would only change from the top down.

When we returned home, my wife and I recalled what our concerns were as teenagers in 1963 as compared to the concerns of the young black students in the South… and what activities we were pursuing at the time our age cohorts in the South were being brutalized by police. While we were getting ready for proms, acting in school plays, writing fluff pieces for our student newspaper, and working part time jobs to get enough money to go to college the kids in Birmingham were marching to provide their children and grandchildren with a brighter and better future.

I reflected on this as I read three recent articles: two that describe the role students are playing in the pushback against the pro-privatization “reform” movement and one that illustrates how difficult it is to implement court decisions involving civil rights.

One by Deirdre Fulton from Common Dreams described 75 student marches that took place across the country, marches that sought to… “”reclaim” U.S. public schools from the grips of corporate reformers and privatization schemes”. These marches, organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), a coalition that includes the American Federation of Teachers, the Journey for Justice Alliance, and the Center for Popular Democracy, among other organizations and unions, occurred in Boston, Pottstown, PA, Los Angeles, and several other towns and cities across the country to protest the “reforms” sweeping country, “reforms” that, in the words of AROS, promote “…privatization, zero-tolerance discipline policies, less funding, and high-stakes standardized tests” instead of AROS’ priorities of “…racial justice, equity and well-resourced, world-class, public community schools.” 

The second article I read yesterday in Diane Ravitch’s blog post describing a Colorado Public Radio story about a high school sophomore who taped a confrontation she had with two school board members who spent 90 minutes dissuading her from holding a protest against the school districts’ direction. As Dr. Ravitch’s blog post noted, such taping is legal in Colorado and when the tapes were made public it lead to an embarrassing sequence of events that should serve as a wake up call to residents in that school district that their board is bullying students and limiting their first amendment rights.

The last article was the most discouraging. It was a brief report from the NYTimes’ Christine Hauser on a Federal court decision that required a Mississippi school district to stop operating two separate but presumably equal secondary schools: one for black students and one for white students. 62 years to the day after the US Supreme Court decided that separate but equal schools were not permissible any longer, Mississippi is finally being compelled to adhere to those findings. The children who marched in Birmingham in hopes of creating more opportunity for the future are, by now, collecting social security if they are alive. MAYBE their great grandchildren will get the benefits from their willingness to stand up to fire hoses, police batons, dogs, and prison…. or maybe an appeal will follow…. or maybe their children will have the “opportunity” to “choose” a no-excuses school that is operated in the same fashion as the prisons where they spent the night fifty-plus years ago.

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