This Friday, a crowd expected to reach into the thousands will throng the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to listen to prominent voices in the progressive movement, such as Rev. William Barber II, address the nation about an issue of critical concern for our current economy and the country's future.
The focus for the rally is a $550 billion sector of the economy with over 100,000 institutions, touching virtually every community in America, including over 50 million children and youth, and employing over 3 million workers, including the nation's largest unions.
Yet, the issue has gotten very little to no attention in the current presidential election and is often frequently overlooked by progressive organizations.
The event is the People’s March for Public Education & Social Justice, and the cause is about rallying the nation to support its treasured K-12 public school system. The gathering begins at 10:30 a.m., the speeches begin at noon and a march to the White House at 2:30 p.m.
Barber will be joined on the stage by some of the most prominent voices in progressive education policy, including education historian and best-selling author Diane Ravitch, renowned author and social justice advocate Jonathan Kozol, Chicago community activist Jitu Brown, and Youth Dreamers fighters for immigrant justice, among many others.
Are the nation's public schools in peril? Why should progressives care?
While some have argued that the nation's public education system has failed, the reality is it's being set upon by a well-conceived, richly funded attack.
First, there are prominent voices in politics and our government who really do want to get rid of public schools.
With the rise of the Tea-Party faction in the Republican Party, we’ve witnessed the growing influence of those who advocate ending public schools. Prominent candidates in the Republican Party now openly advocate for ending public education. And state legislatures under the control of conservative politicians across the country refuse to do what is necessary to maintain public schools – and even work to undermine local efforts to improve public education.
In addition to the attacks from the right, an emerging privatization movement with support from across the political spectrum siphons billions of dollars out of public schools and subjects communities, especially of low-income families of color, to a constant churn of school closings and openings that rob parents and students of control over their education destinies.
So if you were to devise a strategy for destroying K-12 public education in the nation, you'd be hard pressed to devise a strategy that differs from what is actually occurring – starving the schools of funds, undermining teachers and badmouthing their profession, and putting public funds in the hands of competitive enterprises that often act as unaccountable private interests.
Why should progressives care?
In nearly every platform being promoted by progressive-minded organizations, there is considerable attention to the expansion of early childhood education, to address inequities in our system from the outset, and attention to the availability of higher education and a relief from the massive amount of college student loan debt that now financially shackles a whole generation. These are indeed critical issues, but left completely unaddressed is what we should be doing to educate young people between those two stages.
"People in the progressive movement have to realize that regardless of the particular fight they are engaged in, it starts with education," National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia explains. "Whether you’re fighting for environmental causes, women’s rights, voting rights, all of these causes – and the very foundations of democracy and how our society makes decisions – start at a schoolhouse door."
Arguably, no other single institution, outside the family, has a more formative influence on our citizenry than public schools. No other enterprise the nation undertakes is as collaborative as public education.
Further, for anyone particularly supportive of grassroots movement causes, here's a bona fide movement for you.
In 2011, many of the organizers of Friday's upcoming event staged their first action in the nation's capital. As Valerie Strauss reported on her blog at the Washington Post, "It was the first time that teachers from across the country have raised their voices publicly in protest of education policies at a Washington rally."
Since then, isolated protests against current education policies in the nation have become a full-blown nationwide education rebellion, an Education Spring, unifying disparate factions throughout the progressive community around the cause of defending and advancing public education in the K-12 years.
Just like the fight to integrate public schools in the 1950s and 60s was connected to the larger struggle for civil rights, fights to preserve and strengthen public schools are connected to much larger struggles over what kind of nation America is becoming.
If that's a cause you believe is worth getting engaged in, please come join us.