Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nevertheless, We Persist!

Presented by Phyllis Bush, Monday, February 20, 2017 at the Indiana State House.
2017 Celebration Of Public Education

Good afternoon, friends of public education!

Like so many of you, I am the product of and a passionate supporter of public schools. I am a retired teacher and an advocate for kids, for teachers, and for my community. I am a member of the Network for Public Education and of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, (the lime green renegades). According to my grandsons, I am a Legendary Slam Gram. While where we are now might not be called legendary, this is most definitely a critical point in time. We are at a moment of historic consequence, not only for my grandsons, but also for the future of all of our children.

For the past six years, every legislative session seems to have brought daily threats to public education. Along with so many of you here today, I have been doing all that I can to slow the education reform juggernaut. We have run into brick walls, condescending pats on the head, lectures on Ayn Rand and school choice, and much like a certain senator who was warned, Nevertheless, we have persisted!

Here are some of the facts that we need to keep in mind as we celebrate and defend public education.

1. Nearly 90% of all Indiana children (1,010,811) attend public schools.

2. The 3 largest school districts in Indiana are Fort Wayne Community Schools, Indianapolis Public Schools, and (ding, ding, ding) Indianapolis Charter Schools.

3. The number of Indiana students using vouchers has jumped from 4,000 students in 2011-12 to 32,686 students last school year. Since the voucher program began, over $330 million dollars have been sucked out of our general education funds.

How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

We have been sold a bill of goods both by politicians and reformers which says that standardized testing is a way to measure student achievement. Rather than spending nearly $130 million on instructionally inappropriate testing, we could more than likely get the same results simply by looking at zip codes.

What seems to have been forgotten in all of this desire to “fix education” is that education is the most important investment we can make in our society. We have to educate all of our children, not just the privileged.

We must educate our legislators to understand that children are more than test scores and that learning is more than obedience.

Even though many of you may be shocked to hear this, Betsy DeVos is the gift that keeps on giving. Because she is so supremely unqualified and manifestly entitled and because her obvious intent is to complete the job of privatization that a certain Indiana florist and his friends from ALEC have begun, she has managed to energize us into realizing that public schools in our communities are at risk.

Rather than arming our teachers to ward off grizzlies, she has awakened a bunch of Mama Grizzlies and Grandma Grizzlies and has put us in a state of major pissment because the threat she is posing is messing with our little ones.

So, my fellow Grizzlies, what do we need to do? Much, of course, depends on your comfort level, but here are some suggestions :

1. Inform and engage our families, our friends, our neighbors, and anyone who will listen.

2. Write letters to the editor. Contact our legislators and make appointments to talk with them and to engage them in conversations. We need to show them and our community leaders that supporting public education is in their best interest.

3. Go to town hall meetings in your district, not with pitchforks and a list of demands, but rather with one or two concrete requests. We need to show how these bills are hurting our families.

4. Talk with business people and community leaders to let them know that being college and career ready is not the only thing that we want for our children. We want critical thinking, caring, discerning human beings who will contribute to our communities and to our future. This kind of learning and knowledge, rather than dubious test scores, is the key to a good and just society where we are aware of the value of all citizens, not just the privileged few.

5. Join groups like Indiana Coalition for Public Education and the Network for Public Education to keep in the loop about what is happening and about action steps that are needed.

This election has provided a wake up call for all of us.

We are witnessing the dismantling and privatization of public education.

We are witnessing the dismantling of democracy.

Will you stand by and watch this runaway train, or will you speak out and do something?

As the saying goes,

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”


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