Monday, March 11, 2013

Dear Readers . . .


Dear Readers,

This is Robert Rendo, your cartoonist and commentator.

To readers who largely identify themselves in these cartoons and basically agree with the politics herein, I consider you all to be my friends, brothers and sisters, colleagues, and heros.  

I wax a bit maudlin, but it's true. 

The fight against this corporate reform in public education has forged bonds - cyber and real - that I've never dreamed of or thought to be important. But they're here, and they're real. 

Among a variety of activism that I participate in, I produce these images because I'm, well, in the mood for a good old fashioned, take-it-outside fight. I'm looking to put on the boxer gloves and fight the injustices our state and federal governments and private sector have launched upon education in an increasingly successful attempt to remove it as a public trust. We know by now about the devastating consequences to children, society, and democracy if this attack continues to progress. 

It's astonishing how both major political parties in Washington have mostly turned against teachers and mindlessly jumped onto the teacher/principal bashing bandwagon. It's shocking how politicians and billionaires use "fulfilling disadvantaged children's civil rights" as their narrative when in fact, their tax policies and dire absence of collectivist thinking are so much the genesis of poverty. 

It's equally astonishing how our national unions, for the most part, have been sneaking around cutting deals behind closed doors, thereby compromising our profession. These same unions avoid robust, militant opposition and confrontation, and they are notorious for not listening to their constituents or running themselves as petition based organizations.

I am pro-union all the way, but only when unions behave like unions. The AFT, for example, has not bothered to consider that its invitation to the "reform dinner table" never mentioned that we teachers were on the menu. 

How revolting. 

Therefore, while profiteers are reforming education, we stand to reform our own unions and reinvent ourselves to promote, facilitate, and sustain equity and excellence in education. By taking action to reinvent, renew, and reinvigorate our unions, we will be so much more successful at fighting back against these "reformers" who know little to nothing about cognition and pedagogy. 

I think Karen Lewis's leadership is one decent example of what unions ought to be and still can be. The CTU did not get everything they intended in their negotiations, but the strike, under Ms. Lewis's stewardship and a 98% "yes" referendum vote from teachers, made a seminal, strong, symbolic, and yet hardcore pragmatic statement. 

Ms. Lewis's leadership, while still being challenged by even more "militant" union activists, is an example of what democracy within a union, consensus, and solidarity can achieve. Chicago's public schools' plight is far from over, but one can't get to the top of the ladder without climbing the lower rungs. The CTU is also an example of how we'll want unions on our side in the fight against privatization.

I think MORE (the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a caucus within the United Federation of Teachers in New York City) is another such shining beacon of reinvention. 

Could it be that large scale leaders like Dennis Roekel and Randi Weingarten are beginning to wake up and smell the inequity, the privatization, the narrowing of curriculum, and the attack upon labor? We will be handed that answer, but we won't get it for quite some time.

But let there be little doubt that we are all waiting and watching, antennae up, ears perked, radar on, and union dues paid.

At the same time, we teachers across the nation are also faced with the responsibility - one that arises out of social justice - of dramatically increasing our communication to the general public that this "reform" movement largely ignores student and family poverty, the statistical flaws of standardized testing, the obsessive emphasis of testing at the expense of crowding out other critical civic knowledge and social intelligence that children must acquire, the "starve-the-beast" financing of schools with tax dollars disproportionately funneled into our defense budget, a system of taxation that acutely favors very wealthy individuals and organizations, the bailing out of corporations when they fail and chose to be corrupt, and the virtual absence of local educators' and parents' voices in educational policy making. 

How we impart this to the public should open up a wide and intense dialogue nationally. 

Do we do it as private citizens outside the scope of our employment? Do we do it at PTA meetings, town hall meetings, school board meetings? Do we educate our very own students in developmentally appropriate ways about this reform? These are the challenging yet empowering questions we all need to discuss and forge answers and actions to. 

I invite discussion right here in this forum. 

In that vain, I have some wonderful and hopeful news for you. 

Besides drawing and writing cartoons, I have also recently collaborated with my better half (she's also a public school teacher) in designing the masthead, logo, and branding for a new national organization headed up by Doctor Diane Ravitch, known as The Network for Public Education (NPE). You can find this powerful, intelligent, and snowballing group at:

http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/

I encourage each of you to read the "about us" statement and decide about becoming a member, contributor, activist, or just about anything else you feel you want to be to empower yourself. 

I recently joined NPE, knowing that it will be the premier entity to defend public education by growing a grassroots movement and using social media to tip the moneyed advocacy scale that billionaire think tanks have dumped their dollars into. 

I would like to say that having directly communicated with Dr. Ravitch, there is nothing - and I mean NOTHING - pretentious, glitzy, superficial, contradictory, or opportunist about her. She's true blue. . . . she's the real thing. 

Diane is about pure, unmitigated, unadulterated advocacy. Her brand of advocacy involves being informed, using empiricism, promoting common sense notions of equity and justice, defending and protecting children, parents, teachers, and administrators against injustice, and preserving districts, education as a public trust, and democracy at large. 

There is hardly anyone else like her. 

Yet, outside of being a little star struck, she's one of us. . . . and we are her, she is us, and we are each other in this just cause. 

I invite you to visit our website, become an active member, and join us in this highly moral fight to preserve public education. 

If this ugliness goes away, it won't be anytime soon, nor will it be without a focused fight. Preserving education as public trust and making it equitable for children of all socio-economic backgrounds is critical to our democracy, and it won't be the case if we let it become privatized or have its landscape and noble, solid purposes be altered by for-profit interests. 

Thank you always for taking the time to read this and for taking a look at my artwork. 

Feel free to lift any of my work to incorporate into your own advocacy literature. 

With warmth and solidarity,
Robert Rendo, NBCT
artwork88@aol.com