Education and the Occupy Movement

I believe in public education, which is being threatened today, especially here in our beloved California. And especially by corporations.

I attended public schools Kindergarten through 12th grade and then did undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas. I was the first member of my family to graduate from college.

Now I teach part-time at SSU, where I am a member of our union, as well as at Dominican University in San Rafael. I’ve also taught at other public colleges, including the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Community College.

Public education should be for the public, not for corporations, which are not people.

Too many of our schools today dumb our children down, teaching them to be consuming work objects rather than educated citizens able to guide our great democracy.

I studied with Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in Latin America. He criticizes the “banking system of education,” where teachers deposit information into students, as if they were static receptacles.

As the Occupy movement has so clearly revealed, America’s big banks are a big part of our problem. Banks were bailed out with our tax dollars, which went into the pockets of their rich managers. This money would have been better spent for public education and social services, which are being so drastically cut.

The gap between the wealthy one percent and the 99 percent has been expanding in recent years. Over 1,000 families in California lose their homes to foreclosures each day. This is more than the number of houses sold each day.

Some of our tax dollars used to fill the treasure chest of the banksters and to make war should be used for public education, social services and health care.

My teacher Freire says that we need to get beyond the banking system of education to one based on dialogue. Socrates planted some of the basic roots of democracy with his famous dialogues. We need to return to that traditional Socratic method as the basis for public education

 Instead, we have had 10 disastrous years of the misnamed “No Child Left Behind.” It increases profits for corporations and decreases education for the public good.

Standardized testing puts students from minority and less wealthy families at further disadvantages. The rush toward online education benefits the corporations pushing it, such as Wal-Mart, and leaves out one of the most important ingredients of education, the presence of a live person as a teacher who cares for students.

Two recent books document the crisis in public education. “The Death and Life of the Great Amer. Ed. System” is by Diane Ravitz. She was an undersecretary of education for the first President Bush.

“The Assault on Public Education,” edited by William Watkins, reveals how corporations are dismantling public education to create a new social order to serve a technocratic elite. Corporations have not only bought politicians and bought the Supreme Court. They are purchasing our once-great, now-declining California public education system.

Corporate profits are at record highs. The rich get richer and we get poorer. These are hard times, especially for students. What do young people have to look forward to? Astronomical college debts and minimal opportunities for meaningful, ongoing employment. Many have to move back with their parents.

I do not mean to paint a hopeless picture. Crises are openings for change—opportunities. In fact, less than half a year ago, something started changing history. So, I would like to shift to part of the solution: the Occupy Movement.

Occupy gives me hope. It is many things, including being one giant school. Its students of various ages learn together, thus building relationships and community.

Occupy was started by young people starved for genuine education They question our economic and political systems. Occupy is a form of public education open to all—including the millions left homeless by criminal banks that foreclose and evict, leaving vacant houses around our nation.

As a Vietnam Era veteran, I appreciate Occupy for welcoming all vets and our service to our country. Vets are not cast out because of our Post Traumatic Stress. We are welcomed home by Occupy. Some of us are currently founding The Occupied Press—North Bay to tell our own stories. A free press is essential to a free society.

The Occupied Press will report on public education. Occupy has radically changed the national conversation. Now we need to change the conversation about the meaning and purpose of public education.

We need to reclaim public education as a place to teach the skills of democracy, not merely work skills.

It is time to deepen our fight back. Our students deserve a better education to face our futures, rather than a worse education.

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