Seattle High School teacher Jesse Hagopian came straight from the picket lines in Seattle to speak to the crowd at Fighting Bob Fest 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 19. Hagopian is a member of the new Progressive Education Fellows, a group of prominent writers and activitists organized by The Progressive to call attention to the ongoing fight to save public education in the U.S.
Why are Seattle teachers on the picket line? Hagopian spoke about the teachers' demands, and also about the importance of the struggle for every public school student in the country:
"I’m proud to say that in this struggle we achieved something perhaps unprecedented in the history of the teachers union movement. We were in a fight for the right for kids to play."
Hagopian made it crystal clear how the teachers' strike and their demands for student play time is fueled by their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It’s shameful we have to do this, but a study came out in Seattle that showed that dozens of schools have less than 15 minutes of recess, and where was this happening? It was in schools concentrated among neighborhoods that serve predominantly low-income students and students of color because, they said, we have to raise the test scores so those kids don’t get to play. Those kids don’t get to have the benefit of the emotional and social development that you get when you solve problems on the playground together with your peers rather than sitting inside and filling in bubbles and eliminating wrong-answer questions all day long."
"The Department of Education found that black students are suspended at four times the rates of white students for the very same infractions," he said. "We have a demand in the contract negotiation that we set up race and equity teams in every school across Seattle."
But black or white, well-off or low-income, Hagopian makes a compelling case for why the Seattle strike matters to every public student in the country.
"We are in the midst of the largest uprising against high stakes standardized testing in the history of the Unites States of America," Hagopian said. "Perhaps you heard that my school was the first in the country to unanimously decide that we refused to give one of those mind-numbing standardized tests, and that we were going to turn towards real education, and valued real teaching and over testing."
"It may have erupted in Seattle with the MAP test boycott, but it didn’t stop there," he continued. "Students in Portland walked out, and then in Chicago, and then in New Y teachers refused to give it. Then we saw the parents join this movement in an opt-out wave when 200,000 families in New York State alone said 'my kid is more than a score'."
Why are so many students and families rebelling against standardized testing?
Hagopian has an answer:
"I think people know that education has to be the bedrock of a healthy community, and that we need an education system with a far bigger purpose than the narrow confines that those in the 1 percent have set up. Their vision of education is about preparing young people as low-wage workers in their corporations. But we have a far bigger purpose."
Children these days face a world of countless conflicts, mass incarceration of people of color, horrific income equality, and unprecedented environmental change, Hagopian argued. Education has to have something to say about all of these issues.
"They said we haven’t been teaching for the last week, but I disagree," he said. "I think we were teaching the greatest lesson we ever could to our students and the city and nation -- that solidarity and collective struggle can achieve social justice."
Listen to all the other good points Jesse Hagopian makes in his talk at Fighting Bob Fest 2015: