March 4 Protests to Defend Public Education
Students and teachers in at least 32 states and as far away as South Africa participated in a March 4 Day of Action to protest cutbacks, higher student fees, and the privatization of education. Estimates as high as the hundreds of thousands made this the largest coordinated student protest in many years.
The actions grew out of demonstrations and sit-ins last fall in Berkeley in response to the University of California Board of Regents decision to raise undergraduate fees an additional 32 percent. The protest rapidly grew in size, geographic area, and political scope. The Day of Action focused on the right to equitable public education from preschool through graduate school, and tied student rights to defense of teachers and other staff.
Ricardo Gomez, a third-year student at UC-Berkeley and founder of Berkeley Students Against the Cuts, was interviewed on Democracy Now!:
“The thing that’s really galvanizing students isn’t just the massive fee increases that students are seeing this semester and are going to see next year; what’s really galvanizing students is the idea that their public universities are being privatized. The different services that we have on our campuses—IT services, bus services, dining services—are facing union busting by administrators. . . . More corporations are coming onto campus to do research that [doesn’t] align with the ideas, the values, of public institutions. . . . And so, as much as this is a battle about fee increases or this is a battle about K through 12, it’s a battle about fighting against privatization, and reaffirming and reasserting the public good.”
Marches, sit-ins, and rallies were held at hundreds of California university, state university, and community college campuses, in addition to demonstrations at city and government offices in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and other cities.
Demonstrations across the country included a sit-in at SUNY Purchase in New York, a mock funeral for public education and health care at the state capitol in Olympia, Wash., and a protest at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at which police pepper sprayed the protesters.
In South Africa, the South African Students Congress, the country’s largest student movement, demanded free undergraduate education and called on its members to boycott lectures on March 4 and march on parliament the following day.
Information in this article first reported by Democracy Now! and Reuters.
Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Finally Comes to Racine
Racine is the third largest school district in Wisconsin. It is a predominantly working-class community where more than 30 percent of the population is African American and Latino. Although the city has a strong tradition of civil rights activism, it did not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday until students decided enough was enough.
Two student groups, Students United in the Struggle and Students United for Immigrant Rights, joined together for a citywide campaign to make King’s birthday a districtwide holiday. It took the students three years to make it a reality. The student groups formed a coalition with the NAACP and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera. Together, they spoke at school board meetings and lobbied the teachers’ union. Once the campaign was successful, students spent six months organizing a full-day celebration for the entire community.
Jessika White, one of the student leaders, saw their victory as a graduation gift. “I’m excited,” she said, “because Dr. King deserves it. He deserves a day of recognition in Racine like he has in other cities in Wisconsin. I’m proud to have been part of this victory.”
Excerpted from an article by Al Levie.
Free the Hikers In the Winter 2010 issue of Rethinking Schools, we wrote about the three hikers who have been imprisoned by Iran since they strayed across the unmarked border with Iraq on July 31, 2009. One of the hikers, Sarah Shourd, had been working on an article for Rethinking Schools about her work with Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria. According to Democracy Now!, Swiss diplomats who recently visited the hikers in Evin Prison in Tehran say that Shourd is suffering from a serious gynecological condition and depression, and fellow hiker Shane Bauer is suffering from a stomach ailment. For ways to help support the hikers, visit http://freethehikers.org.
Victory for Khalil Gibran International Academy
Debbie Almontaser, founding principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, recently won an important victory against anti-Arab discrimination. As we reported last year in Rethinking Schools (“Silenced in the Classroom,” Spring 2009), Almontaser was fired from her job at the first Arabic-language public school in the United States by the New York Department of Education (DOE) after a smear campaign launched by a group called Stop the Madrassa. She was replaced by a non-Arabic-speaking principal with no major school management experience.
“The [New York] DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a determination issued March 12, 2010. The EEOC urged
the DOE to reinstate Almontaser as principal and consider the award of damages.
“This is a stunning and important vindication of what Debbie and her supporters have been claiming all along—that the Department of Education succumbed to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice, committing a terrible injustice and sending a dangerous message about the ability of voices of bigotry and hatred to determine which public schools get to exist and who should lead them,” said educator and writer Paula Hajar.
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu was one of the signatories of a letter from Jewish leaders in support of Almontaser. “I am delighted by the EEOC’s determination,” she said. “[It is] a step on the road to justice for Debbie Almontaser. . . . Her good name and reputation deserve to be redeemed.”
Perhaps now the original goals of the Gibran Academy can begin to be realized. They, and Almontaser’s own goals, are expressed in a line—from Gibran’s most famous work, The Prophet—that appears beneath the name of the school on its website: “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
As the World Burns by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan