Public employees’ unions have become the target of legislative austerity across the United States. Despite the massive growth of administrative authority and budgets since 1980, teachers and faculty have taken the blame for the failures to educate nearly two generations of young people. Bureaucracy has absorbed the goodwill of the populace to assure equal opportunity in every community and mired the most ambitious institution of human liberty ever conceived. Pioneering thinkers like Ken Bain (author of What the Best Teachers Do) and Kerry Ann Rockquemoore (president, National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity) deserve the media coverage and emulation provided to celebrities like Joe Clark and Michelle Rhee.
More than a decade ago, students took charge of the conditions that shaped their education at Temple University. Seth Anderson-Oberman, Mary Stricker, Erik McDuffie, and Bunmi Samuel combined the limited power of university-funded student organizations into a movement that made the Graduate Student Association a collective bargaining unit affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Just weeks ago, students led a national campaign to restore autonomy to the Department of African American Studies and preserve it as a global leader in educational innovation. While hundreds of school districts and universities undermine their missions of inclusion and equity by eliminating innovative leadership positions and celebrating dusty defenders of elitist segregation, the seeds for a worldwide transformation of teaching and learning have been sown.
Alex Peay and Mubarak Lawrence recently received recognition in Black Enterprise magazine for their work in Philadelphia with the Rising Sons organization. The group is dedicated to improving the quality of K-12 education throughout the city and metropolitan area. Extraordinary teachers like Danielle Harris, Greg Little, Shakeeta Parker, and Jennifer Thompkins have taken their research and developed philosophies of engagement that transform their students’ lives by trusting the process to the youth as opposed to stifling their creativity. Joshua Walsh, Corey Barkers, Irene Lisinski, and Don Coppage have built organizations and institutions that deserve every minute of time volunteers can muster and every dollar of support our banks, realtors, and hospitals can share with them.
Paolo Freire celebrated the approach these paragons of leadership share in his book,The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In it, Freire calls for revolutionary changes in the methods, content, and outcomes of education worldwide in an effort to break systems of colonialism and exploitation. Too often, despite our best intentions and painful sacrifices, parents and community leaders overlook the value of Freire’s call for change and the local people who best embody it. Take time to look at the most creative and demanding teachers you know and support them through the local unions and professional organizations. Without them, the future of American education will lack both clarity and purpose.
Dr. Walter Greason is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended theCivil Rights Movement in New Jersey.