Just as the Progressive launched its new “Education Fellows” project, as a way to refocus education policy on democratic, child-centered principles, one of those fellows–California professor Julian Vasquez Heilig–came to Minnesota to talk about community-based education reform.
Vasquez Heilig spoke at the University of Minnesota on September 24 to a late afternoon crowd of around 100 people. Outside the elegant, refurbished halls of the University’s historic Northrup Auditorium, rain clouds threatened to explode, but inside, Vasquez Heilig warmed the audience with his insistence that they, too, can help determine what happens in our nation’s public schools.
University of Minnesota professors Mary Vavrus and Roozbeh Shirazi introduced Heilig. Vavrus and Shirazi have been studying how the mainstream media helps push a negative story about public schools–that they are failing because of union policies and bad teachers.
“Our emotions are being weaponized,” Shirazi said, describing pro-charter school films Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down. Both films–the former non-fiction and the latter fiction–have a school choice lottery scene as their climax. Each has a storyline about a fed-up, downtrodden parent whose child attends a miserable, failing public school. The child’s only hope is to get a seat in a stellar, “high-performing” (according to standardized test scores) charter school, which is painted as every child’s educational salvation.
These films are part of a massive attempt to win our “hearts and minds,” Shirazi pointed out, by depicting an overflowing, unmet demand for charter schools. Left out of the picture is the information that charters exclude students who need extra services like special ed, and results are mixed. Some schools serve some kids exceptionally well. Others have been mired in fraud and abuse. None can replace a democratically controlled, universal public school system.
Vavrus noted that the media have been complicit in promoting charter schools, high stakes testing, and anti-union policies as the best solutions for everything that ails our public school systems.
But if the dominant narrative about public schools is just a manipulative storyline pushing false solutions, what should we be advocating for instead?…
See the Lecture here:
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