I wish to dedicate this post to the woman I’m calling America’s librarian, Joan Kramer, who lost her battle with cancer last week. Joan fought for children, their libraries, and their schools, bolstering us with her strong but kind ways. I felt it was important to acknowledge her this 4th of July.
A hero and friend to us all, Joan was a fine activist and pursuer of social justice. Our hearts are heavy. We miss her. But I think the finest compliment to Joan, is to let her spirit live on in us, the best way we know how.
So, this one’s for you, Joan!
Public Schools: One of the Last Democratic Institutions in America!
On this 4th of July, when we celebrate America’s freedoms, it’s a perfect time to discuss our free public schools, and where we are with them when it comes to school reform. It’s important to understand that our public schools have a new threat, as I will explain below.
Public schools, with all their faults, are the only truly democratic institution we own “together” as a country. Our public schools open their doors to all children.
Teachers take on the challenge of working with the oppressed, the poor, immigrants, and even those with the most severe disabilities. Collectively, such care of our children will lead to the greater good of our country and the world.
Local school boards, elected by the people, give all of us a voice as to how our schools are run. This is a democratic process threatened with extinction because of school privatization forces.
If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can go to the school board meeting and make your voice heard. If you don’t know how to help your public schools, you can sign up to be a volunteer.
A public school not only reflects the community that surrounds it, it is an anchor to bring people together.
Efforts for us to hold onto our public schools are in jeopardy today, and they have been in jeopardy for many years. Business has staked a claim on our public schools. There’s money to be made using our tax dollars.
Where are the rules and regulations to prevent this kind of takeover?
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and the Loss of Democratic Schools
One huge threat that we recently learned about is the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). The CZI will push personalized computer learning into public schools. This means the end of teachers and student interactions when it comes to schooling.
The CZI has billions to throw at school districts to push their personalized learning experiment. Struggling school districts, which can’t find money for the simplest of school building improvements, will take their money in exchange for the CZI ideology of all-tech schooling.
But “our” public schools don’t belong to Mark Zuckerberg or Priscilla Chan! Why should anyone outside of a school district, with no children in the school, get to dictate to the rest of us how our public schools should be run?
Diane Ravitch questions why Priscilla Chan, as a pediatrician, doesn’t focus on the health needs of the poor in our public schools. There are many ways the wealthy could contribute to helping real public schools improve.
Who is James H. Shelton III?
The CZI plans to give billions to James H. Shelton III to remake schools into their vision. Here is an interesting post about Shelton by blogger Jan Resseger.
It’s important to know that Shelton has been working towards a computer takeover for years.
- He was deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration. He has degrees in computer science and business. He oversaw a broad range of management, policy, and program functions.
- Before becoming deputy secretary, he served as head of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department. This included teacher and leader quality, school choice, and learning technology. Yet, he was never a teacher.
- Earlier, Shelton worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There he managed portfolios ranging from $2 to $3 billion in non-profit investments targeting increased high school and college graduation rates.
- Shelton also worked as the East Coast lead for NewSchools Venture Fund, and he co-founded LearnNow, a school management company that later was acquired by Edison Schools.
- Shelton launched, acquired, and operated education-related businesses for Michael Milken’s Knowledge Universe, Inc.
In Education Week, Shelton spoke deceptively about personalized learning. He said, We’ve got to dispel this notion that personalized learning is just about technology. In fact, it is about understanding students, giving them agency, and letting them do work that is engaging and exciting.
Then Education Week listed noble charities Shelton has contributed to. I think this was meant to distract us from the real issue.
Personalized learning is just about technology! There’s no proof students learn best this way. What most fear are public schools turned into charter computer warehouses. They shut out all the wonderfully rich interactions with people and experiences.
Speak Out for Children and Their Schools!
Corporations do not own our schools!
I will end with the words below of my friend Joan. Here she stands before the Los Angeles School Board fighting for libraries, reading, and great schools for children.
She starts by saying she is nervous. I identify with that! Maybe you do too. But Joan courageously spoke out loud and clear! Such presentations are significant on a grand scale. Public schools belong to us all!
Speak up at school board meetings and get involved. Don’t allow the incredibly wealthy to steal our schools! Don’t replace teachers with machines!
On this 4th of July, as you watch fireworks and wave the flag, think about what this country stands for—who we are and the future of the meaning of “public” schools for our children and America.
Herold, Benjamin. “Former Deputy Secretary of Education to Head Expanded Initiative.” Education Week. June 29, 2017.
Thomas Ultican says
A couple years ago, my new friend I met at NPE Chicago, Larry Lawrence, started telling me about Joan. Subsequently, I found her Turtle blog and made a “personalized” relationship. Until about 2 months ago, Joan promoted everything I wrote. She would write wonderful leads and share them on Facebook and she would write to me with personal insights and encouragement.
I met many of Joan’s friends and they all loved her, but she could no longer come out to public events so we never met face to face. Yet, I felt such a personal connection that profound sadness tore through my heart when I read the news about her passing on Jeanne Berrong’s Facebook page. (Jeanne is another NPE friend that I made at NPE Raleigh.)
I was so pleased to see your tribute to Joan on the 4th of July. She was an American treasure who touched a lot of hearts. From my Buddhist perspective, I am confident that Joan is recharging and getting ready to make life better somewhere in a galaxy far far away or possibly here again.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Thomas. My story with Joan is similar. She suddenly put my blog on Facebook! We began messaging and I thought I was her special friend. Spoke on the phone. But EVERYONE was her special friend! She had a way with all people…lifting them.
Thank you for mentioning her interesting blog. I went back and linked it to her name. Her writings are so interesting and her projects unique. Thank you for your kind thoughts.
Sheila Resseger says
Thank you, Nancy, for this beautiful tribute to Joan. I knew her through facebook and her blog, and felt deeply and warmly connected to her. Her passion for social justice and her courage in the face of terrible odds were inspiring. Her passing leaves a hole of great dimensions. But her essence will continue to inspire all of us who believe with all our hearts in the value of a public education for all children. I especially commend you for exposing the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their hypocrisy. The intent all along has been a digitalized education to prepare students for a corporatized world. We need to break the spell of enchantment that the lure of technology has covered us with. We need to take back teaching and learning to the human sphere. Our world is too shattered and too dangerous to leave our fate to algorithms and edutechnocrats.
Nancy Bailey says
As usual, your writing is beautiful, Sheila. And your points about schools well-put. Thank you so much.
Joanne Yatvin says
Until I read Nancy Baily’s article today I did not know that Joan Kramer had passed away. Like the people who commented above, I was befriended by Joan, who knew me only through my blogging about education. I am not surprised to see that she supported other writers too; she cared about all of us who are standing up for our public schools and fighting against those who demean them or try to obliterate them. Now that Joan is gone,may we only grow in our numbers and our power to defend public education and expose the evil, ignorance, and greed working to destroy it.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Joanne. Lovely. And the last sentence is one that Joan would have especially loved.
dear friends of public education: I agree with Nancy (see above) about “losing her battle with cancer” language. I am sharing her essay to educate us all, as we all try to do in this heroic fight. have a blessed day.
Nancy Bailey says
I have never heard this before. I am sorry, first of all, about Nancy’s mother. And I am sorry the words “lost their battle to cancer” offended you.
As a cancer survivor and someone who has lost friends and loved ones, including my brother, to the disease, I do see it as a battle. And I hope that it is a battle that is ultimately won very soon.
And just because someone loses their battle to cancer, by no means makes them a loser! That seems like strange reasoning.
But this gives us all something to think about so thank you for sharing.
Roy Turrentine says
I find it hard to believe that any computer thing will reduce the manpower needed to teach them. Remember when computers were going to make paper obsolete? We are choking on paper. Trees tremble every time someone drives past a forest with a computer In the car. The wealthy are far removed from schools.
Another aspect of people being removed from schools is the governmental process of building, opening , and closing schools.. Public schools are indeed an anchor of the community. A story illustrates this.
It was spring of 1972, right in the middle,of the consolidation craze that roiled public schools across rural America. Our county was one of the last holdouts, keeping three small town schools open against pressure to send everybody to a central county high school. Then our school burned one spring night. There ensued a spring and summer of bitter wrangling. Finally, two rival towns were put together to form the school where I now teach. When the school began to grow, we were an intact institution that has united the two towns.. We will soon break ground on a new school, late in time, but better last than never.
Politics is messy, but it is always better than decisions made without input.
Nancy Bailey says
I appreciate this, Roy, however, I do think public schools are threatened by technology right now. Thanks for commenting.
Karen Wolfe says
Nancy_ this is such a nice tribute to Joan. As an activist in LAUSD, I can’t tell you how many meetings I would attend and find Joan right there fighting for our schools. Joan was a radical activist who had also earned the respect of the officials of our school district. She gave me so much courage! Tributes like yours keep her alive. Thank you!
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks so much for your activism in LAUSD and beyond, Karen. And for commenting here.