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Occupy the Future of Education!

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

On September 17, 2012, the Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its one year anniversary by having its financial district protests squashed in New York City before they could really even begin. On the same day, the Chicago teacher’s strike entered its second week with Mayor Rahm Emanuel seeking a court injunction to break the strike. And Jonathan Kozol was on NPR pitching his latest book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, declaring that providing excellent education for all children is the only way to break the cycle of poverty in which so many of our most vulnerable citizens find themselves in. Aside from all of this happening on the same date, these three events have something else in common – they all point to the fact that the Occupy Movement has thus far failed to make a difference for the 99% – particularly in regards to education. Can the cure to all our societal ills be found in education? I agree with Kozol that the answer is a resounding "yes." Here’s why, and how OWS can be refocused to help do it.

The Occupy Movement and Education
The early days of the Occupy Movement held a prominent place on Education Unbound, where posts about the OWS library, and the movement to occupy education provided an opportunity to explore the movement and to push for education to be one of the focal points.

Far from education becoming the focus of the Movement, OWS has moved progressively further and further from the public view. Until this anniversary weekend there were few if any organized protests. Occupiers are no longer officially occupying much if anything, and the Republican Party is pushing a candidate for president who wants to further expand the gulf between the 99% and the 1% he represents, and destroy public education in the process.

It seems as if the OWS movement has, in fact, accomplished nothing, and has done nothing to better the situation of students, as the Chicago teacher strike highlights. Perhaps we are just not ready for major change? Maybe 99% of the 99% are blinded to the plight of others by placating and stultifying media? Maybe most of us just don’t care about the homeless person we see on the street corner, the family struggling to avoid becoming homeless, or the child in the overcrowded classroom? Or maybe we are all too concerned with our own tenuous positions to expend the energy to make a change?

The anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street Movement should serve as a reminder to all of us that change will never happen unless we make it happen. The best place to begin a massive societal overhaul is education.

Neither Side is Right
We are less than two months away from a presidential election that may well define the future of this country and our place in the global hierarchy. One of the issues that is not being satisfactorily addressed by either party is education. On the one hand, there is a push for vouchers to skim off the top students and suck the resources out of the rest of the educational system.

On the other side you have a push for more standards, testing, and teacher accountability for something they have very little real control over. Neither of these options is going to work as a long-term solution to fix education and keep America competitive in a global marketplace where the "glut of genius" is making even our most innovative thinkers irrelevant.

There must be an alternative to these policies which focus on short term, quick fixes that won’t really position education or the country any better for the future than doing nothing at all.

Don’t Forget Ed – Ever!
There is an under-the-radar grassroots movement called Don’t Forget Ed! happening right now that is aiming to make education the key issue for the upcoming election. Aligning the Occupy Movement with this initiative could provide a struggling OWS with new direction and focus.

While making education central to this election is great, we need to focus on changing it on a much greater time scale than any one election or politician can address, and a rekindled Occupy Movement could be just the vehicle for sparking the change. Here are some of the big changes that an Occupy the Future of Education Movement could advocate for:

  • Durability – Education must be redesigned to last through any disruptions that might occur at the societal level. It needs to be the central value of our society, and should have sufficient support to stand apart from our political system. Taking a big picture view of education would allow us to see the broader consequences of inequality in the system and to take steps to address them. This would make the entire system more stable and sustainable.
  • Self-Sustaining – The constant struggle for educational funding is one of the biggest issues with the current system, and tying resources to elections, tax initiatives, or private donations is a model that is inherently problematic, promotes inequity, and is ultimately unsustainable. Moves must be made to make the system self-sustaining through innovation, technological advances, and entrepreneurial thinking.
  • Evolutionary – One of the most significant problems with education is that it is slow to adapt, even in a world that changes at the speed of light. The system must be flexible enough to allow teachers and administrators to adapt to changing circumstances in the world around them. This means increased funding to facilitate innovative curricular choices and freedom from the standardized curriculums and tests that stifle the ability to adapt and teach new topics, concepts, and skills as they emerge.
    (based on What the 10,000 Year Clock Can Teach Us about Planning for the Future of Education)

While the Occupy Wall Street Movement may have stumbled and slowed over the last year, the time is ripe to reinvigorate it to make a push for a change that will benefit every member of society, whether they are a member of the 99% or the 1%. Now is the time to Occupy the Future of Education!