Two "Action Meetings" were held at Royal Oak Middle School Tuesday. More than 250, "primarily teachers and school employees" according to Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin, attended the 4-o'clock session; another 150 or so, "predominantly community members and parents," attended the 6:30 gathering. I attended the 4 p.m. meeting.
The call for action is focused on the perceived need to beat back Governor Dick Snyder's proposed restructuring of the public schools system, described in part by the speaker as "An agenda for special interests who avoid solid prerequisites for quality or requirements for transparency; An agenda for special interests with no recognition or concern with research-based best practices; An agenda that opens the coffers to a for-profit raid on billions in public money."
Laying down the challenge forcefully and articulately was Dr. Vickie Markavitch, Superintendent of Oakland Schools, the tax-funded entity which provides 28 school districts with services and programs which would be difficult or too costly for each district to supply on its own.
The 4 o'clock session turned into a rally, with cheers and applause for statements made by Dr. Markavitch and by several other district superintendents who were present. Representative from the Lamphere School District (Madison Heights) were especially numerous and boisterous.
Intensely articulate, Markavitch presented a one-sided review of her focus: "For more than 20 years a persistent group of people have been trying to get public money to support private forms of education." She took sharp digs at Governor Snyder and managed to derogatorily toss "Engler" and "Lansing" in there somewhere. Specifically, she targeted House Bill 5923,Senate Bill 620, and Senate Bill 1358.
Her action plan includes encouraging the use of a website (http://www.capwiz.com/tca4educ/home/) to begin the process of getting 1 million messages to Lansing. The website is operated by the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which serves Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne county school districts. To influence the lame duck session, she pointed out, "Legislators have to hear from you . . . before December 12th. You must contact your legislators today."
Because it would be understandable for Versagi Voice readers to wonder whether the quotations I've used here are themselves biased, I have published the speaker's text in Versagi Voice's Education folder. The page also contains the text for the several legislative alerts and a "Contact Your Legislator" sample letter.
My concern is that there was not the slightest acknowledgement of the almost worldwide mindset that money allotted to each student belongs to the student and should be available wherever the student goes to school. Or that course-level instructional choice or some aspect of Snyder's "any time, any place, any pace" thrust might play a role in improving education. I didn't stay for the Q&A session after the break, so I don't know if anyone raised those points. As well-conducted and polite as the gathering was, it saddened me that the tone and intensity reflected those of a 1940s-era union meeting where anyone who might question or disagree with this or that point in the party line would be scorned and considered a traitor or enemy. Straightforward "us vs. them."
Judging from content and tone of news reports and organized letters to the editor and lobbying (lobbying everybody, not just politicians and PTAs), educators around the state reject any suggestion for change which does not originate within the education community.
Those clicks we hear in the civic arena are of group minds snapping shut.
And the backlash has begun.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.