Duncan Meets Protesters at Harvard
Harvard was in education news in April, when anti-teacher governor Chris Christie, now widely known for calling the teachers’ union “a bunch of political thugs,” was met with a standing ovation before he even spoke a word of his speech before Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Christie proceeded to lay out his case for tying teachers’ pay to students’ standardized test scores and making it easier to fire ineffective teachers (i.e. doing away with the due process teachers acquire after they receive tenure that limits unwarranted firings and racial or gender discrimination and helps preserve academic freedom). It shouldn’t have been a surprise that at one of the elite schools in the United States, where students are prepared to go into education policy and research, become administrators, or hold other positions in the upper echelons of the American school system, snakes like Christie receive the royal treatment.
What is surprising is that just one month later 60 protesters gathered at Harvard to protest Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was being honored as the Chief Marshall of his alma mater’s graduation ceremonies. Protest slogans and signs included, “Teachers are not test prep technicians,” “Arne Duncan fails public schools! And we fail him!,” “Schools for children, not for profit,” “Race to the Top… fall to the bottom!,” and “Standardized tests = standardized minds.” This brief report from Wicked Local Cambridge, and reprinted in Schools Matter is worth reprinting here:
Cambridge —Last Thursday, Harvard graduate and current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was honored as the Chief Marshall of his alma mater’s graduation ceremonies.
Traditionally, the Chief Marshal for Harvard Commencement is elected from the class that is celebrating its 25th reunion, according to the Harvard News Service. Duncan, who graduated in 1986, was elected to the post by his classmates.
But for a handful of educators and activists just outside the university gates, the event wasn’t a reason for celebration.
Close to 60 protesters gathered in Harvard Square to speak up against Duncan’s policies as secretary of education — policies, they said, that depend too much on standardized testing.
“We are here to let the world know about the problems that he’s caused for our teachers and our families,” Liza Womack said. Womack — herself a Harvard alum, an elementary schoolteacher and an organizer for Speak out for Public Education — emceed speeches by educators, activists and local politicians.
Many of the speeches were critical of the federal Race to the Top program, which awards grant funding to states that meet certain criteria, including developing testing standards to evaluate teacher performance.
In his speech, Alfie Kohn called the program “operation discourage bright people from wanting to teach.”
“There’s so much more to education and public education than what you can measure in a standardized test,” Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern said just before the protests started. “We are losing creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills. We have to focus on all the things that don’t fit into a nice, neat little box.”
In a fiery speech of his own, former City Councilor and current council candidate Larry Ward urged the crowd to “keep fighting, keep fighting and keep fighting.”
“Arne, get out of our lives and get out of education,” he said.
This seems like a great way to build a national movement to defend public education. A protest like this one should be organized everywhere Arne Duncan (and Chris Christie) go.