Thousands of teachers, parents and activists from across the country are descending on Washington today to protest education policies they say are demoralizing teachers and encouraging constant test preparation.
They plan to assemble at noon on the Ellipse, near the National Mall, for a rally and then at 2 p.m. march around the White House. The “Save Our Schools” demonstration was organized by a group of teachers, education bloggers and parents who are frustrated with the direction of school reform. It was endorsed by the two major teachers unions, as well as a long list of school leaders, authors and a few Hollywood celebrities ,including Matt Damon, whose mother is a schoolteacher.
Donna Shaman, a 61-year-old occupational therapist from Seattle, came to protest in Washington this week for the first time since the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was in the White House and the Vietnam War was raging.
“I remember the buildings being really tall, and I remember the tear gas,” said Shaman,. “I remember marching in huge numbers of people, staying overnight at a friend of a friend’s house, and believing that we were going to change the world.”
More than 40 years later, she is a little less idealistic but still hopeful that a mass rally will make an impact.
“I think a moment of critical energy has suddenly emerged, but moments like this come and go unless we seize them at their height,” said Shaman, who works in a public school district near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
She says she is frustrated about the “limited and constricted” education being offered in schools focused on test scores, and the amount of blame heaped on teachers for struggling students.
“People who have no idea about education are smashing teachers, attacking professionalism and if a school fails, it’s automatically the fault of the teachers,” she said. “People are ignoring the poverty, the fact that children come into my classroom hungry, and with a whole lot of problems.”
The march was preceded by a two-day conference at American University. Activists are planning sister rallies or events in a dozen cities across the country, including a Main Street March in Oklahoma City and a Torchlight Parade in Seattle. Organizers have urged attendees to “wear red for public ed.”