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When Will “Progressives” Defend Public Education?


When Will “Progressives” Defend Public Education?

Anthony Cody

This morning I opened my email to find a message from “Bold Progressives,” who exist to rally support for Democratic Party candidates willing to fight for real change. The message was a survey from the “Progressive Change Campaign Committee,” asking if I thought Hillary Clinton should face a primary challenge. The second question is this:

Would you help press all Democratic candidates for president to run on bold progressive ideas?

I clicked “yes,” and the following option appeared:


“As you must surely know, K12 public education is under a frontal assault by corporate interests who are seeking to privatize our schools. This assault is being aided by the Obama administration and Democrats like Andrew Cuomo.”

Well-said, Mr. Cody; and thank you for fighting on behalf of public schools and our children’s future.


You mention that teachers make up the largest organized group of voters in the nation. Problem, they are not organized as a voter block. Here in Northern Michigan, over 50% of the NEA/MEA members vote for Republicans. Then they snivel and whine about the actions taken by Republicans. Using tactics like fear and race-baiting, Republicans get people to vote against their self-interest.


What’s left out by both the “Bold Progressives” (other than a boilerplate mention of “working families”) and Cody is any reference to race and class.

And if you think the rape of public education has nothing to do with those elements

Your sociopolitical education has been tragically bereft, as well.


Why are teachers no longer an organized voting block? What is NOT happening at NEA or at MEA? They used to be a reliable, potent force, and as they have lost their unity, they have lost many, many important political battles! I think NEA and the state associations have tried to pander too much to “both sides” and haven’t taken the hard lines they used to - for the best decisions regarding public education. I saw it happen first when NEA wouldn’t stand up and tell Ronald Reagan that the “A Nation at Risk” report was full of C–P !! And it has continued through No Child Left Behind, etc., etc. They have watered down their message so much that teachers don’t trust them anymore!


There are actually 2 things wrong. The first is the delusion that the Democratic wing of the corporate duopoly party has anything whatever to do with progressives. They ignore them when they’re there, and when they can’t be ignored any longer or the Dems see an opportunity, they chase them not only out of the party but out of politics. Dennis Kucinich is only one example, gerrymandered out by a unipartisan duopoly team after having the temerity to hold out a week or so too long against the “Aid to Insurance Companies Act” aka Obamacare. You want progressives? Vote for Green Party candidates.

The other problem is that while education, poverty, racism and more are very important problems, there is only one issue now and for the next 5 generations. That’s Climate Catastrophe and the larger ecological crisis. As far as we know, we can solve it; many of the solutions will also put people in power who will naturally favor the progressive stance on most if not all of those other issues, but they must be secondary to the survival of the human race and millions of other species in the face of still-rising greenhouse gas emissions and ecological deterioration. To the extent that education can help us in the long run with our ecological crisis it needs to be worked on, but for civilization to have a chance we have to reduce fossil fuel use by at least 90% in the next 15 years; we have to reforest the planet and transform agriculture and industry to ecological forms, and that is a staggering task that can’t be accomplished if we don’t focus exclusively on that for the duration of the crisis.


I am hoping to earn an MST in California in the next two years. I do not want to get near charter schools. I read daily about teacher’s reactions to them, I’d say from what I see now the response tends toward the negative. I had such good experiences in California’s public schools as a kid, I want to work as far away as I can from privatization.
I do think, from the outside, teachers did not stand up against Reagan, but so many other groups also caved, living through the 1980’s as a progressive was a daily gasp for air. For what it’s worth, the country now has something for which there is no precedent-a huge proportion of public school students living at the poverty level (I read approaching 50% recently). I’m not sure most Americans want to hear that, the level of denial in this country about how most kids are living. Personally, it is disturbing enough to put other issues further down in importance. Democrats are far from great these days, but at least they address the problem. Men like Mitch McConnell probably couldn’t care less. The current Senate Republicans are truly from Hell, as was Reagan, and most of the GOP since him. Any educator who votes Republican these days needs a psychiatrist.
Also, from my viewpoint most progressives in the U.S. these days tend to be from the upper middle class. They may not be thinking too much about K-12 because they are from areas where schools are less vulnerable. At the university level in the late 80s Southern California I personally found much of the progressive group unbearable. They generally did not have any firsthand knowledge of working class families. I think this is a big difference from my parents mid-twentieth century period. So, we are struggling with a society of haves and have nots, something people talk a lot about but try their best to avoid dealing with.


Someone needs to appeal to these folks by asking what their endgame is. What is the endgame for a teacher who votes to end public education?


They have not thought it through, which says to me they should never have gone into education in the first place. This goes in hand with re-establishing teaching in the public sector as something worth paying people decently, respecting them, not looking to corporate influence as a panacea for the schools problems. I’d say to anyone if you enter a public service position then find yourself bashing it you have your own problems to deal with, so do that instead of trying to tear the system down.