Jacobin Article on MA Movement’s Successful Effort to Defeat Charter Expansion is uplifting
As readers undoubtedly sense, I have been disheartened by the recent election results and deeply concerned about what they portend for the future of public education. If you share that mindset, I encourage you to read Jacobin’s article “Public Education Can Win”. The article is an edited transcript of an interview between Elizabeth Mahoney and Carlos Rojas Alvarez, the student field director for Save Our Public Schools Massachusetts. Mr. Alvarez partnered with a host of coalitions help defeat Article 2, a proposition funded by billionaire “reformers” that would lift the cap on charter schools, opening the floodgates for privatization. Only 7 years out of high school, Mr. Alvarez looks like a force to be reckoned with. The interview reveals him to be insightful, articulate, and determined… but willing to collaborate with groups some of his colleagues perceive as “enemies”. In sum, he appears to be an astute politician in the best sense of that word. When asked why he believed his relatively underfunded group of student volunteers, parents, and teachers were able to defeat the billionaire privatization advocates at the ballot box, Alvarez offered this hopeful analysis:
Overall, there was a recognition that public services like education need to stay public and need to serve all people. People are not interested in creating special, more elite, more selective, isolated systems of education as a way to address the issue.
That “recognition” required the assembly of a cadre of foot soldiers who knocked on doors, convened forums, and went to great lengths to explain to voters what “choice” and “charter schools” were really about… and it wasn’t about helping poor and disenfranchised children.
When Ms. Mahoney asked about the role the teachers unions played, Alvarez was quick to give them credit, despite the fact that as recently as five years ago his student organization was not on the same page with them.
We were able to see and learn that labor unions, however messy they can be, however much they are on the wrong side of issues — and historically on the issue of race teachers’ unions have often been on the wrong side of history — are essential. Through this connection we saw that we cannot have an educational justice movement without teachers, without the labor union that protects them.
Today I think that anti-union sentiment is changing and we’ve been able to have lots of conversations with other young people about the importance of teachers’ unions and about workers — how people are treated at the workplace.
One of the fundamental pieces of misinformation put out by the charter school movement is that teachers are not doing their jobs well, that teachers’ unions are protecting bad teachers, that their salaries are bloated, that we have to bust the union, fire teachers, and pay them way less.
When people are desperate and can’t see their child succeeding, they turn against the teacher and blame them for the failures of the system. To combat this we’re working to foster conversations that help students develop a class analysis about the importance of supporting and strengthening teachers unions as a way to achieve true educational justice.
Mr. Alvarez’ principled and pragmatic approach needs to spread to the Democrat party. If the party will not embrace the democratic socialist stance of Bernie Sanders, they should at the very least stand up for the workers in the country who are underpaid, overworked, and— in many states— precluded from organizing. Based other support for Bernie Sanders, it appears that many young people have absorbed the message that teacher’s unions were developed for the same reason as unions in coal country and factories: teachers were seeking a living wage and safe and sane working conditions. In addition, and especially given the blacklisting that seems to be emerging, the unions need to protect the free speech for themselves and their students.
I came away from reading this with a ray of hope. I have to believe that there are other young Americans like Mr. Alvarez who are ready, willing, and able to assume the leadership of a movement that will push back against the privatization of public services and the plundering that is besetting our economy on all fronts. Here’s hoping their voices can be heard!