Thousands of students in cities all across Chile hit the streets on May 14 to demand free education. Chilean students, frustrated with President Michelle Bachelet and the government’s lack of progress on the issue, want to have more of a say in how education is reformed. “They don’t listen to us on the reforms,” Maria Jose, a 17-year-old student at the Santiago protest, told AFP. “We want to be heard. We’re disillusioned. It’s the same every time, the reforms get gridlocked before they accomplish anything truly good.” On May 21, Bachelet is set to make a speech addressing her plans for how she will go about making changes to Chile’s education system, and the students hoped to make a statement ahead of that speech. “This march has a direct relation with the fact that we are a week away from May 21,” Valentina Saavedra, president of the Confederation of Chilean Students, or ConFECH
Students this month from several Romanian universities have occupied amphitheaters, sleeping in overnight, threatening with a hunger strike and boycotting midterm exams. Fed up with government passivity for the past eight years, and with the inefficiency of an Education, Research and Innovations Ministry that always promises and never delivers, the students are demanding 6% of the gross domestic product be allotted to education. In Timișoara, the students occupied a bus used to transport them from one school to another – only this time they used it to talk other students into joining the protest gig, voicing their hopes, beliefs and anger along the way.
Every semester my students from Voices Behind Bars, a class I teach at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, go to prison. They used to visit state institutions but now that the Massachusetts state prisons do not offer tours (perhaps because it is a hassle to have outsiders trooping through them and criticizing what they see), the students take a tour of Billerica House of Correction, where they experience confinement to some degree and listen for an hour to an incarcerated man talk about his life and what it is like to be behind bars. Originally, the Middlesex House of Correction, which was built in 1929, housed 300 men. Now it has more than 1,100, after a $37 million dollar expansion which prison officials say was to accommodate the closing of the Cambridge Jail — not without objection from activists and community members who opposed more prison building (actually costing $43 million per The Lowell Sun.)
The New York Times recently published an article about racial disparities in the teaching field which showed that “despite the fact that minority students have become the majority in this country, more than 80 percent of teachers are white.” (Rich, 2015) The article cited this trend in major East Coast cities however, it’s something that extends into the city of Oakland. Claremont Middle School is not just an isolated incident of institutional racism fueled by poor leadership, it’s a microcosm highlighting the poor treatment of black teachers in the U.S public school system. It raises many questions regarding institutional racism, and if school systems truly believe in the ability and agency of black educators.
It was evident that the state would be far below the 95 percent federal participation rate as soon as the 3-8 English Language Arts tests began. When math testing started, the numbers climbed higher still. In the Brentwood School District, a 49 percent opt-out rate for ELA rose to 57 percent during math tests. These rates defy the stereotype that the movement is a rebellion of petulant “white suburban moms.” Ninety-one percent of Brentwood students are black or Latino, and 81 percent are economically disadvantaged. Brentwood is not unique–Amityville (90 percent black or Latino, 77 percent economically disadvantaged) had an opt-out rate of 36.4 percent; Greenport (49 percent black or Latino, 56 percent economically disadvantaged) had an opt-out rate that exceeded 61 percent; and South Country opt outs (50 percent black or Latino and 51 percent economically disadvantaged) exceeded 64 percent. New York’s rejection of the Common Core tests crosses geographical, socio-economic and racial lines.
When it comes to civic responsibility, Ralph Nader would like students to follow his lead. The nation’s schools, the consumer advocate says, should adopt a radical new approach to teaching civics courses, aimed at making students understand what they can do to make a difference. For a lesson he can draw from his own life, as the man who inspired the consumer movement with his attack on General Motors over the safety of the Corvair automobile in the 1960′s. And for a textbook he can point to a new book on civics education released this week by his Center for Responsive Law, titled “Civics for Democracy: A Journey for Teachers and Students.” Encouraging Change The book, written by Katherine Isaac, encourages students to be agents of change and lays out a variety of ways they can do so, from using the court system to insuring that laws are enforced to working to bring about new laws.
Alumni of the University of Oxford are occupying the university in protest over its failure to divest from fossil-fuels. The University, under pressure to act on its major investments in fossil-fuels, announced today it was postponing a decision on what to do with its investments until May. Oxford University has the UK’s second largest endowment fund, valued at £855 million in 2012, with a further £2.9 billion of investments controlled by its colleges. Occupying alumni included the University’s own former Finance Director, John Clements. The BBC quoted him saying: “we are bitterly disappointed about the university’s failure to come to a decision. Oxford should be leading the move away from investment in all world-destroying fossil fuel companies to more sustainable forms of energy.”
More than 100 students and professors are accusing the Cornell police of conducting threatening interviews with student activists because of their involvement in a protest of the university’s Board of Trustees. Cornell police, however, say that the students were interviewed because of a reported crime. Officers are charged with investigating criminal acts regardless of the political motivation of who committed them, and it would be wrong to give preferential treatment to only certain people because they are student activists, Chief Kathy Zoner said. At around 1 a.m. on March 26, the night before the Board of Trustees meeting, someone broke into the Statler Hall Auditorium and used a private computer in the room, according to Chief Zoner.
Controversial for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges said Sunday it is closing the doors of its remaining 28 schools, capping the year-long collapse of one of the country’s largest career college chains. The closure will leave some 16,000 students without certificates or degrees but with a good chance of having their federal student loans forgiven. Corinthian said it is working with other schools to find a home for its displaced student body, but those efforts depend on the cooperation of the institutions and the Education Department. “As Corinthian closes its doors for good…department staff will immediately begin outreach to Corinthian students to review all their options, which may include loan discharges for students whose school closed,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement. “What these students have experienced is unacceptable.”
Were you shocked at the disruption in Baltimore? What is more shocking is daily life in Baltimore, a city of 622,000 which is 63 percent African American. Here are ten numbers that tell some of the story. One. Blacks in Baltimore are more than 5.6 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites even though marijuana use among the races is similar. In fact, Baltimore county has the fifth highest arrest rate for marijuana possessions in the USA. Two. Over $5.7 million has been paid out by Baltimore since 2011 in over 100 police brutality lawsuits. Victims of severe police brutality were mostly people of color and included a pregnant woman, a 65 year old church deacon, children, and an 87 year old grandmother.
Our work with UnKochMyCampus has shown us that transparency removes the smoke and mirrors that cloud the debate, leaving ordinary people ill-equipped to develop informed opinions on research and policy around the most important issues of the day. Our policy is being shaped by corporations, for corporations – and that’s a huge problem. There was a time when the public engaged in a seemingly-legitimate debate about whether smoking caused cancer. Then we learned that the studies claiming cigarettes were safe were funded by the tobacco industry. Once the cat was out of the bag, people saw that “debate” for what it was – a farce.
Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism’s disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic. One outcome is that we live at a time in which institutions that were designed to limit human suffering and indignity and protect the public from the boom and bust cycles of capitalist markets have been either weakened or abolished.
So the first act of testing is a threat of legal consequences and possible fines. There are no such warnings on my own teacher-created tests. Sure I don’t want students to cheat, but I don’t threaten to take them to court if they do. The school has a plagiarism policy in place – as just almost every public school does – which was created and approved by the local school board and administration. The first infraction merits a warning. The second one results in a zero on the assignment, and so on. Moreover, this is something we go over once at the beginning of the year. We do not reiterate it with every test. It would be counterproductive to remind students of the dire consequences of misbehavior right before you’re asking them to perform at their peak ability.
As students wrapped up this week’s state English exams, advocates said more city parents than ever refused to let their children take the tests at schools with active “opt-out” movements, while other parents brought the boycott to schools that are new to the cause. In District 15, Brooklyn’s opt-out hotspot, P.S. 321 saw its refusal rate rocket from about 4 percent last year to 36 percent this year, and P.S. 58 went from one boycotter to 50, parents and teachers said. Meanwhile, in southeast Brooklyn, an area not usually associated with anti-testing fervor, 10 students for the first time handed in opt-out letters at P.S. 203. “It’s small,” said parent Charmaine Dixon, “but it’s big for us, because it’s never happened before.” Advocates were still gathering city opt-out numbers Thursday, and while some predicted an increase from last year’s total of about 1,900 families that formally refused the exams, they will still represent a tiny fraction of the roughly 420,000 city test-takers.