Danny Glover Heads Panel Addressing Need For School Leader Activism to Save Public Education

Actor and social activist Danny Glover participated a panel at the Saturday afternoon session of AFSA’s Triennial Convention where he was joined by civil rights activists and Algebra Project leaders Bob Moses and David Dennis.

Moses initiated discussion of the challenges facing the current educational landscape by recalling Dr. Bill Daggett’s assertion earlier in the convention that today’s landscape essentially makes educators curators for artifacts of a 20th century system that focused on literacy and writing, whereas computers in the current age raise the significance of quantitative literacy.

Bob Moses, who currently heads the Algebra Project, which uses mathematics as organizing tool for quality education for all children in America, noted that the difficulty educators face in changing the system is complicated a federal judge’s ruling Detroit asserting that there is no constitutional right to literacy.

Glover, who serves on the Algebra Project’s Board, worked in the Model Cities program before becoming noteworthy as an actor, “So education has always been in my scope of interests and advocacy,” adding that he is currently working with the Sanders Institute in Vermont on education issues and “the lack of social spending.”

‘Picking up the thread of Moses’ narrative, Glover asserted that since math literacy is a part of what, in a sense, makes up our citizenship, then we need to raise our voice to educate our children for full citizenship.”

To that end, Dennis, who grew up in a sharecropper family, explained that the Algebra Project is an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and a continuation of that movement.

“What we’re getting today is sharecropper education, and sharecropper work is pre-assigned. What your getting is an education that pre-assigns you to certain jobs.

“So, sharecropper education is alive and well,” he declared, “and the question is: what are we going to do about it? This is a political issue, so you [school leaders] need to go home and mobilize. It’s about saving public education.”

Dennis asserted that the overriding issue is: “What kind of America do we want to live in. Talk to parents. Go to school board meetings. Because we have to say, ‘America can’t be how it is right now.’”

Danny Glover averred that it’s often those at the bottom of society who come up with the most innovative ways to change what’s going on. “Collective bargaining,” he said, “was something that was un-thought of at one time. The same with universal health care.:

Figure out in your own profession what can be done, he urged the delegates. “We’re not just about saving this city or this community, We’re about saving this country and what it’s all about.”

“The civil rights movement opened up an arena of the ‘rights of citizens‘ of the country to have a say in the nation’s affairs,” Dennis added. “We don’t have that force around education today.”

He recommended using the Preamble to the Constitution as a tool that you can used to organize around the idea of what it means to be a citizen of the country , since in matters of education we are only currently citizens of out respective state, rather than citizens of the country.

“We need help with this from school leaders,” Dennis insisted. “The teachers we can reach, but we have very little access to people like you. So we need to figure out how we as educators open the door so the voices of the unheard can be heard, because if we move the bottom quartile [of society], we move the entire country forward.

“The children who don’t have a voice are the sharecroppers of today. They say ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ For these kids, there is no village. They’re living in places where there’s no community. They don’t even have access to their own history because it’s not taught in their schools. This is war against all of us. And when you think about it, that war is being controlled by the one percent at the top!”

Moses noted that when former U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander was workin in the Bush administration, he asked National Academy of Science to research the nation’s essential education needs. A report titled The Gathering Storm cited 10 top priorities, among them that the country should provide 10,000 more STEM teachers annually and more funding should be directed toward the underserved.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama rhetorically asserted the need for 10,000 and 100,000 more STEM teachers in their State of the Union addresses. Neither dedicated any money to these proposals in their budgets.

When the floor was opened for questions, a delegate who has worked in the Washington, DC system for 44 years rose to proclaim that she has worked for four different chancellors in the past nine years, all of whom she believes have been systematically punishing the students with testing, noting that “there’s a clear correlation between testing, curriculum, and privatization.

“What I am seeing –especially for the black students in our system,” she proclaimed, “is a curriculum that does not comport with critical thinking. It eliminates anything that prepares students for anything happening in the 21st century.”

Dave Dennis agreed: “These kids are being locked out,” he said emphatically.

Danny Glover asserted: “Privatization, in and of itself, undermines the public domain, same as in the privatization of the prisons. All in all, they’re attempts to redistribute income.”

“Whether the question is health care or education,” Glover added, “the issue has to be that they’re human rights. If we have 85 percent of our kids going on to college – [those advocating privatization] don’t want that, because they know that’s going to create all kinds problems for them. They want privatization because they really don’t want you having control over what’s said to kids in that public domain of education.”

Bob Moses affirmed Glover’s view. “We need to distinguish between privatization and individual agency,” he explained. “We have to install in students themselves the idea of agency in the Preamble. Have the students say the Preamble instead of the Pledge of Allegiance. Give it to them as a tool that puts them in the public space.”