In 1977 I fell in love with Punk Rock. In 1977 that wasn’t an easy thing to do. There was no internet. There was no Spotify. Punk Rock wasn’t covered by any major magazines. So to fall in love you had to somehow tap into this magical network of fellow fans and work to become knowledgeable. I remember meeting a guy in a record store in New Hope. “I noticed you’re looking at the Clash, ever listen to Stiff Little Fingers?” Then depending on their response the conversation would escalate and quite possibly you would get some leads on some new bands that could feed the developing love affair. Only problem was you could go months with out meeting a like minded denizen and you had to find other ways to feed the fire. It made us quite creative.
We were like spies in Cold War Russia, holding on to these self created networks like the fate of the free world depended on it. I remember rushing to the record store to run some names I’d picked up from some other sources to see what else they could dislodge or to experience the joy of opening another’s mind. You’d get the records home and just revel in the joy and freedom they inspired. I remember years of people attacking my music and being so discouraged because the masses weren’t getting it. Could they not see the beauty right in front of them?
Then a crazy thing happened. Slowly but surely punk rock began to creep into the mainstream. I can remember the first time I heard the familiar chorus of the Ramones blasting from a car commercial. Iggy Pop music was being used in Carnival Cruise ads. New bands were being formed that sited the forefathers as instrumental in their formation. The truth was beginning to reach people and they were embracing it. It was all very magical and validating.
I see a similar thing taking place in the world of education. A few years ago when I first started paying attention to education policy it was all about the power of Teach for America, Charter Schools and Choice. These were tenets that never felt right to me but the voices of support were so great I felt like I was missing something. After all Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, David Levin and Mike Feinberg are all highly educated individuals who have studied education policy extensively. How could they possibly be wrong? Then I discovered Diane Ravitch.
Discovering Diane was a feeling akin to the first time I heard a Clash record. Wait a minute there are people that feel like I do who can help formulate these feelings and give them voice? It was awe inspiring and I wanted more. So instead of hanging around record stores I started hanging around Twitter and other social media sites. Instead of discovering the Ramones, Undertones, Replacements and Husker Du, I began to discover Bruce Baker, Gary Rubenstein, Anthony Cody, Edushyster, Crazy Crawfish and Julian Vasquez Heilig. I read, and still do, everything they wrote. I followed the people they followed and my mind once again just began to expand.
Again though I found myself in a minority. You’d meet people and they would be unaware of any of my favorite writers or unwilling to buy in to their philosophy. I distinctly remember the first time I met a family that I now consider dear friends and we both hesitantly asked, “You ever read Ravitch?” Affirmation was followed by, “Are you familiar with Julian’s work?” and then other names were exchanged to check out. I remember sitting in school board meetings and feeling like I was the only one who had these thoughts.
I haven’t written much this past month because I’ve been a little overwhelmed with the reform movements onslaught. It seems that from the beginning of August till recently, every time I looked at a Newspaper or watched a TV program, there was some piece of reform PR. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t daunting but then another realization began sneaking in. They were back on their heels. They smelled defeat in the air and so had to double down to try and keep their movement moving forward.
In 2011 we formed a group that was the basis for TREE to fight against statewide Education legislation. It was extremely difficult to get anyone to listen to us but we won a few fights. This past year it was a lot easier. In fact the legislation session was the fore bearer to the awakening that I’m starting to see nationwide. We ran into more legislators that were more familiar with the people we followed. This year we won some big victories.
These days it seems everywhere I look there is a parent group or community group pushing back against the reform agenda. People are starting to realize that our schools may need work but they don’t need scrapping. They need us all to get in together and work to improve them. There is realization that schools are a cornerstone of our community and a healthy school translates to a healthy community. They are starting to realize that poverty in America is very real and fighting it is essential to improving our schools. I can not express to you how much it makes my heart sing to see this uprising. If it continues, not only will we improve our schools but we’ll improve our communities.
In my punk rock days we were all banded together but our tastes weren’t identical. Some folks preferred the west coast styling’s of the Germs, Black Flag and X. Others were all about the New York sounds of the Ramones, Blondie, and the Dead Boys. Still other all about the English bands, the Clash, Sex Pistols and Jam. We can forget the Mid-western reps, the Replacements and Husker Du. The point is, all were different but we were united by common beliefs or as we referred to it the DYI ethic.
Education right now is no different. There are certain aspects we may disagree on but I think we are united in the core beliefs. Education should serve all children. Teachers are essential and we need to commit to excellent teacher recruitment, development, retention and pay. A commitment to making sure every child comes to school ready to learn. All students should have access to a rich broad curriculum. Ensuring that children get more then just tests, that they get the required physical activity. These beliefs form a foundation we can build on.
These are heady days and I hope the movement continues to grow. I was at a Koch brothers event recently and someone asked a panelist what they thought the single biggest impediment to the further adoption of their policies was. She responded getting people informed about our policies. Inside I did a little dance because its been my experience that the more informed people become the more they reject those ideas. So lets continued to go forth and inform and hopefully our schools will begin to truly represent who we are as a people.