That education should instill and nurture democracy is an American truism. Yet organizations such as the Business Roundtable, together with conservative philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Walmart’s owners, the Waltons, have been turning public schools into corporate mills. Their top-down programs, such as Common Core State Standards, track, judge, and homogenize the minds of millions of American students from kindergarten through high school. But corporate funders would not be able to implement this educational control without the de facto partnership of government at all levels, channeling public moneys into privatization initiatives, school closings, and high-stakes testing that discourages independent thinking.
Educational Justice offers hope that there’s still time to take on corporatized schools and build democratic alternatives. Forcefully written by educator and journalist Howard Ryan, with contributing authors, the book deconstructs the corporate assault on schools, assesses the prevailing teachers union responses, and documents best teaching and organizing practices. Reports from various educational fronts include innovative union strategies against charter school expansion, as well as teaching visions drawn from the social justice and whole language traditions. Bold, informative, clearly reasoned, this book is an education in itself—a democratic one at that.
Howard Ryan’s book is a celebration of the growing ranks of educators, parents, and community organizations’ successful resistance to school closures, moribund unionism, high stakes testing, and undemocratic control of our public schools. Ryan’s portrait lifts up how regular people can reassert democracy through broad-based coalitions and rank-and-file activism.
Howard Ryan’s Educational Justice provides an excellent look into the perspectives and practice of teachers struggling to preserve democracy and education in their classrooms, in the face of a well-funded privatization movement. In a format that mirrors the actual dialogue of democracy-based classrooms, Ryan provides space and context for extended discourse on the important issue of public education by the people who know it best: classroom teachers.
Educational Justice is right on time. It’s an illuminating guide to the formidable coalition of corporate school deformers—that merry band of billionaires, fundamentalist marketeers, hedge fund managers, banksters—who have pushed austerity, privatization, union busting, and the reduction of learning (for other people’s children, never their own). It’s also a handbook to rally popular resistance. This is a manifesto to nail to the heavy oak doors of power, as well as an organizing manual to share with anyone fighting for justice and a revitalized public square. It will fit easily into your backpack, and when you pull it out, its truth will resound like a pistol shot fired into a quiet hall.
In the 1970s, during school desegregation in Boston, one Black parent was quoted as saying, “When we fight about schools, we’re fighting for our lives!” Increasingly, our society monetizes health, education, safety—that which has always been a social, civic right. Educational Justice reminds us that schooling in a diverse democracy is a right, not a privilege, and it is not for sale to the highest bidder. We are not going to take this without a fight—the fight of our lives!
Lots here to praise: a clear, comprehensive, and accessible take on the hows and whys of the corporate assault on public education; detailed stories of struggles and success; and, most important, the beginnings of a vision for the schools our communities deserve that emerges from the struggle against corporate assault, toward critical pedagogy and the practice of education as liberation.