An Open Letter To National School Choice Week

In the past two days I received emails from three individuals associated with National School Choice Week (NSCW). Here's my response:

Dear Ms. Peek-Brinson, Ms. Weiers and Mr. Campanella:

Please stop sending me your cheery emails. I'm not buying what you're selling and, frankly, I'm wondering how you can engage in such a scheme without some sense of shame. I'm publishing this response because I hope other school administrators, teachers and families won't fall for this devious marketing ploy.

You offered me a complimentary box of supplies to use to "celebrate" National School Choice Week: "Signature yellow scarves, rally signs, event promotion posters, lapel stickers and more -- at no cost..." I don' t even have to pay shipping and handling, you promise. Whoopee! I suppose you expect me to drape the scarves around my students' shoulders, plant rally signs in my school's flower beds, place posters throughout the neighborhood and proudly wear a lapel sticker on my jacket.

You say you hope "schools that participate find the Week to be an enjoyable, rewarding and celebratory time." Is that really what you hope?

Or do you hope that your work, funded by the most conservative, anti-union, anti-progressive and anti-teacher forces in America, will accelerate the demise of public education in America? I'm proud to acknowledge the generosity that supports my progressive school. Are you not proud of your support? Why does your website not have any information about who you really are and who funds the emails, scarves, signs, posters and stickers?

My research shows that your support comes from places like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is funded by the Koch brothers, Big Pharma and some of the most rapacious corporations in America. A great deal of your support, according to Media Matters for America, comes from the Gleason Family Foundation, which also paid the discredited lobbyist Dick Morris to shill for them. Your support comes from FreedomWorks, a right wing organization that shares Grover Norquist's hope to shrink government to a size where it might be drowned in the bathtub. Do you wish the same for public education?

Perhaps you felt I would be eager to join the celebration because my school is a private school. Surely I would be supportive of encouraging school choice through vouchers or increased numbers of charter schools. Surely not.

I, like many of my private school colleagues, am deeply ambivalent about my own work. Ambivalent, but not embarrassed. My school is among many privileged schools that declare an unambiguous public purpose. We partner with public schools, argue for school funding and stand with many others who imbue a deep sense of social justice in our students. We know that public education is essential to the future of our country. Schools should be equitably funded, teachers should be cherished and unions should be appreciated for their historic role in resisting the drift toward plutocracy.

By contrast, "school choice" means further segregating schools by race and class. "School choice" diverts critical resources from underfunded public schools to for-profit education management organizations. Courtesy of your efforts, "school choice" means tax dollars flowing to fundamentalist religious schools through contrived mechanisms, clearly violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment. You demean the profession by claiming that any young college graduate with a few weeks training is a "teacher." Your funders, if they had their way, would privatize Social Security, abolish Medicare, eviscerate public education and leave all but the privileged to fend for themselves in a mythological meritocracy.

I suppose I sound rather harsh. I don't mean to personally attack you. But your message and your organization are fundamentally dishonest. You don't want to "celebrate" my school. You want to co-opt us for your lobbying effort. You want to have us identify with your "brand" so as to create the appearance of very broad public support for your very narrow and self-serving agenda. You want this so that even more misguided, misinformed legislatures and politicians will pound nails into the coffin of pubic education.

It's a free country (at least for the time being.) Your activities are probably legal. But be honest about it. I find it deeply offensive that you would obfuscate your true intentions and exploit children and unaware adults to advance your destructive political agenda.

There are many places you might consider putting your lapel stickers, but my suit jacket is not among them.