A New Public for a New Public Education is Emerging

Tomorrow afternoon, students, teachers, parents and community activists, moved by their collective conscience, and as agents in a historically significant battle for democracy, will converge at Performing Arts High School in Buffalo (at Ferry and Masten) to demand public schools remain public. Students, teachers, parents and community activists are demanding that the substantial redesign plans developed by each high school with significant input be approved by the Buffalo Board of Education (Bennett, East, Lafayette and MLK high schools). These forces are opposing the closure of these high schools and the transferring of these public assets to private charter operators, who will receive them at no cost and who will be subject to no real public oversight. It is clear that education deformers seek the transfer of public assets to the private domain, for private benefit in both political and economic terms. It is clear that education deformers want a private monopoly over public affairs. They want control over the public, and no longer even seek its consent. They want private, corporate control over what is inherently public, social and belonging to all.

Despite the incessant propaganda to the contrary, parents, students, teachers and community members have maintained that there is a direct link between public control of public schools and the quality of education provided. Through their redesign proposals and community work, they are directly countering the essence of the disinformation campaign of education deformers, who for more than three decades have promoted the view, long before King Cuomo, that the problem with public education is that it is public.

These students, parents, teachers and community members have emerged as the educating and informing public. This public has become an authoritative source of information, a safeguard for collective wisdom, and a spring of new energy and hope. It, and not the so-called reformers and “high performers”, can be trusted. This emerging public authority arises from the necessity of the broad interests it serves and the relationships and organizations that comprise it, have fought for it, and work to sustain it. This representative public is emerging as a result of concrete work to defend public interests and oppose insane policies masquerading as accountability, and it has historical significance beyond tomorrow’s action. This new public stands as an important basis for advancing the general interests in the future; it is a powerful means for transforming people’s hope and energy into lasting change.

Thus, these forces are emerging as a representative public capable of governing in service of the general interest. Similar forces have and are emerging across the country in cities like Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, and elsewhere. We are in and part of this historical moment. This new public stands against the wrecking and irrationalism of those who wield power on the medieval basis of wealth-status. They demand all social institutions serve the narrowest, most self-serving interests. They trivialize the advent of public schools as a common good and obvious social necessity that cannot be privatized, nor subject to the logic of speculation.

Let’s be clear: the corporate agenda for education—high stakes testing, Common Core, charter schools, etc.—all this portends rigor-mortis for the body politic. Their “reforms” demand the emasculation of public interest and the removal of even the appearance of democratic governance. The education and active engagement of members of the body politic in matters that affect their lives cannot be tolerated under the new regime that is now being imposed, in education and in fact all social spheres. There is no role for the educated citizen because their is to be no citizen in the modern sense of the word. With a King such as Cuomo, there can only be the serf, which must be socialized (at public expense) to be “career ready,” a mere toiler for the master’s private benefit.

Thus it is important to see the emerging representative public as a dignified and hopeful counter to the abject failure of current political institutions and the degradation of politics at the hands of those now usurping power at the local, state and federal level, the decaying and corrupt old public authorities. These wrecking forces do not bring order, but instead function to disrupt the formation of a new public interest through the imposition of chaos, fear, and social division. These are brutal forces, threatened by facts, logic or claims to the inherent value and dignity of human being, who increasingly subject teachers and students to their reductionist behavior management techniques in hopes of reducing the need for guns en masse.

The new public is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of those who refuse reasoned debate or the public’s right to govern in the open, not behind closed doors. The new public sees no sense in waging campaigns on the basis of asking illegitimate powers to yield to its ideas, evaluations and proposals. It is putting something else at the center. The new public is emerging by appealing to those it objectively serves. It is emerging as an authority on the basis that is has and can continue to provide real solutions, including solutions to the problem of creating the means for all—everyone, every individual and collective—to have a real say, as a right. It is this orientation that provides more space for the new public to grow as a powerful, legitimate and capable actor, animated by these convictions and the conscience of what is right and just. This provides hope and serves the aim of building a democratic education for and in service of all.

4 Comments A New Public for a New Public Education is Emerging

  1. Elizabeth January 28, 2015 at 11:35 am

    May you have legions at your rally and may your voices be heard!

  2. Dino January 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Many of the ideas above were ringing loudly and clearly through the afternoon cold outside before the Buffalo BOE meeting, and during the “public comment period” inside. A veteran principal, not gagged by the “3 minute time limit” as the rest of the public was because she is the president of the administrators union, spoke at length about how the best “performing” schools came to be: they were designed by teachers working together and involving the community to best serve the needs of the students as well as the neighborhoods and city as a whole. She named the specific teachers who worked tirelessly to propose and build City Honors and other criterion schools which are recognized and admired throughout the city. The current redesign teams represent an important first step in the new public asserting itself. The board vote was delayed, but the students, parents, teachers, administrators, alumni and community members who have activated themselves, have only but begun to organize themselves. They will be back .

  3. Kuhio Kane January 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Mr. Harrison, you are a voice in the wilderness of mediocrity (this meme stays in my head since boyhood, pardon); however, this piece reflects nothing new on the edges of a new populist movement, not just for public education, but the deposition of our current form of reverse democracy of authoritarianism.

    It’s time to change the narrative toward a Syriza, a Podemos, in America. The facts have stood for themselves for a long time now regarding the privatization of the commons, public schools being most auspicious.

    Now is the time for all good people to come the aid of …… themselves and depose our corrupt government which continues it’s work for Wall Street and it’s death grip of patent monopolies which continue to promote corporate control of our freedoms, what’s left of them.

  4. Ray Peterson January 29, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Dear Mark, You don’t know me personally,
    but I’m a close friend and colleague of Kevin Gibson and last heard you speak at the church on the West Side.
    Kevin pressured me to speak at the next Board meeting and I reluctantly acquiesced.
    After reading your above letter, we are on so “the same page” especially “convictions of conscience of what is right and just.”
    The painting I intend to show, if Kev has the technology straight, depicts your insistence on the resources issue so
    vital to opposing the privatization of public assets. Any way, in my 3 minutes I hope to rattle the conscience’s of those dead to their own humanity and so willing to destroy what they can of other’s.
    Ray Peterson

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