The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘For black lives to matter, black #education has to matter.’

A demonstrator holds up a Black Lives Matter sign near the Capitol on Thursday as a protest march on police brutality arrived after having started near the White House. (Paul Holston/AP)

It would be easy on a Friday so dominated by news of deadly violence in different parts of the country to ignore everything else, but there is an event in Washington that shouldn’t be overlooked.

It’s the annual conference of Save Our Schools, a coalition of educators, parents, students and concerned citizens fighting against corporate school reform and for the health of America’s public education system.

It is one of several conventions now being held every year by public education activist groups, including United Opt Out and the Network for Public Education — all of which illustrate the growing effort among activists to strategize together to achieve greater impact on the education debate in this country.

Activists over the last several years have been successful in bringing national attention to problems with high-stakes standardized testing, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, elements of the school choice movement and other key issues in the world of education. And with achievement gaps still gaping, some 22 percent of American children living in poverty, and schools being more segregated today than they have been since the 1960s, these activists have consistently pressed federal officials and legislators to focus their reform efforts on bringing educational equity to all students.

The tweet above says it all rather succinctly. The author is identified as “undercoverBAT,” a reference to a teacher who is a member of the Badass Teachers Association, a group of thousands of teachers who are highly vocal about their discontent with reform and who are participating in the Save Our Schools convention Friday and Saturday. The author stays unidentified because of a desire “to stay employed,” according to the user’s Twitter bio.

The quote actually comes from a speech at the Save Our Schools march given by Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and advisor to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle, who is also an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine.  Hagopian’s speech said in part:

Philando Castile knew every name of the 500 children he served breakfast and lunch to every day.  He knew their food preferences and food allergies.  Parents and coworkers described him as kind and patient to the kids he provided for every day at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Minnesota.
But the police didn’t see an educator or a mentor when they pulled him over on that Wednesday evening and shot him to death. So let the bullet that pierced Philando’s heart also pierce through the mirage that somehow institutional racism is a thing of the past.
But when we say Black Lives Matter we don’t just mean we don’t want to get shot down by unaccountable police with impunity.
We know that for black lives to matter, black education has to matter too.

These are the stated goals of Save Our Schools, which held its first gathering in Washington in 2011, an event at which actor Matt Damon spoke in defense of public schools and teachers:

Matt Damon’s clear-headed speech to teachers rally

  • Equitable funding across all public schools and school systems
  • An end to high-stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
  • Curriculum responsive to and inclusive of local school communities
  • Professional, qualified and committed teachers in all public schools

(Update: adding author of quote and part of speech he gave at SOS march)