Yesterday the students of Newark took to the streets to register their displeasure with the newest round of New Jersey turnaround plans (and had the savvy to do it in front of the reporters already gathered for Bridgegate).
The students of Newark are a phenomenal group. I met three of them last weekend, and they are strong and smart and show a confidence and command in speaking up that many folks two or three times their age can envy. And they are also exactly like every teenager you've ever met.
The Newark Students Union has been a strong and relentless voice in Newark, one of the school districts of New Jersey that has had all of its democratic process stripped away in the name of reform (once again, the kind of public-silencing reform that most often seems targeted at a public that is mostly black). When superintendent Cami Anderson wouldn't talk to them, the students followed her to an AEI event in DC. And just a few months ago, they occupied her offices (using the insurgent strategy known as "walking through the open door").
Adult support for student activism isn't always great. "They're just kids. They don't really understand the issues. They have wacky, unrealistic demands. They get all caught up in drama. They create chaos and disorder."
And I'm sure that those objections are true sometimes. So what? We've seen that "responsible adults" with power and access make stupid terrible fact-less decisions and cement them as policy.
This is a democracy. Citizens and stakeholders are supposed to have a voice, and if students aren't stakeholders in schools, I don't know who else could be. I wish my students were this passionate about their school, their community, their right to speak up whether they have official permission or not.
Democracy is not about saying, "We will fix your schools (even if you didn't ask us to), but in exchange you will give up your right to have a voice in the governance of your own community." But that model, that model of silencing entire communities while using their schools to create revenue streams for folks who have no stake in that community-- that model is spreading from Newark to Philly to Chicago to Holyoke to Little Rock.
And so the students of Newark are standing up not just for their schools, but for the democratic heart of our nation. And they are not just standing up in Newark, but on the front lines of an incursion aimed at our entire country (well, except of course the rich parts). All of us who care about public education in this country owe the students of Newark our support and our thanks.