On January 22, 2012, a conference convened by the United Public Workers for Action took place on the topic The Attack on Public Education and Privatization at Laney Community College in Oakland, CA. The conference is in support of the Occupy Education days of action on March 1-8.
After a rousing musical performance by a feisty musical group called the Angry Tired Teachers, Steve Seltzer introduced the morning session of the conference which kicked off with a speech by Jack Gerson, of the Oakland Education Association (retired), about the attacks on public schools and labor in Oakland. He explained how billionaire-supported nonprofit organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the KIPP Foundation, have organized politically and are taking over the public education system with charter schools.
The next speaker, Kathleen Carroll, an attorney fired from the Commission for Teacher Credentials, described how education administrators are using teacher credentialing to filter teachers out of our schools based on their political affiliations. She also outlined a number of unethical or potentially criminal conflicts of interest in the state’s educational system.
Peter Brown spoke briefly about his educational campaign called the Digital Disruption which is available on youtube.com.
Mickey Huff, a Diablo Valley College professor affiliated with the Media Freedom Foundation, talked about how people need to create a narrative around the right to education to prevent the media from capitulating to private interests that are attacking the educational system.
Adam Bessie, another Diablo Valley College professor, talked about how the billionaire philanthropists get to call the shots about education in our state, while teachers are told that they are self-interested when they advocate for their rights. He described the frame, narrative, or story that the 1% is pushing: schools are broken, teachers are to blame, and our savior is the free market. He referred to a book by Diane Ravitch called The Death and Life of the Great American School System to help us find a way to break through the narrative of the 1% to reclaim our educational system.
Professor George Wright of Skyline College and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT 1493) described the history of the education system in which the state of California at one time guaranteed a nearly free education not only for K-12 but also at the college and university level through the California Master Plan for Higher Education. He traced the system’s devolution to the new model as a business pursuing risky financial ventures nowadays funded by inflated tuitions which make it no longer possible for many students to afford to attend or go into long-term, potentially lifelong debt to attend college or university. He described other issues such as the corporatization of student loans. He pointed out that education has shifted from a right to a privilege. He described efforts by the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force to channel students into college and career readiness, i.e. removing critical thinking from the picture. He presented his thesis that these trends represent part of a 40-year process of restructuring the United States and global economy and implementing a hegemonic ideology called neo-liberalism. Professor Wright concluded by warning against cooptation by the Democratic Party and other regressive forces and demanded that education once again be free.
Dr. Gray Brechin, a UC Berkeley geographer, spoke about how the University of California system is dismantling any part of the system that is not “profitable”, which means for example selling off irreplaceable library collections. Dr. Brechin pointed out how the New Deal response to economic crisis was exactly the opposite of the current approach. The government funded the construction of schools and other public works programs. Partly due to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt, the United Nations passed the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights which declares that all children have the right to education through the university level. He explained the transition to the concept of TINA (“there is no alternative”) with austerity measures gradually implemented to shift distribution of wealth, increase military and surveillance budgets, etc. He pointed out that none of the UC Regents have any experience in education, but they believe that education should be profitable, especially for themselves.
Peter Matthews spoke about Proposition 1522, the Oil Extraction Tax Initiative to Fund Education. The polls show that California voters believe in social justice and would approve the initiative. California is the only state in the United States with an oil extraction market that doesn’t have an oil extraction tax. He explained that the initiative would institute a 15% tax on oil profits and bring in billions of dollars for education in California every year. Volunteers from the campaign explained that it’s a grassroots campaign relying on volunteers to circulate petitions to get the measure on the ballot.
The conference ended with a rousing discussion among attendees.