From Anger To Action

Yesterday’s outpouring of protest against the deliberate decision to destroy California’s public education system was characterized by one dominant emotion: anger. And that was exactly as it should be. If you’re not angry at the collapse of our schools, colleges, and universities, and the stealing of an entire generation’s future, then you’re really not paying any attention.

I spent the day at Cal State Monterey Bay, hearing student after student take the microphone to express their anger at what has happened to their dreams. This was not a violent anger, but instead the kind of deeply rooted anger that anyone would quite rightly feel when they have been betrayed. The state of California has betrayed these students, having asked them to work hard to succeed in school and promising an affordable quality education, only to yank that promise away from them in order to deliver tax cuts to huge corporations.

On other campuses, anger was clearly the dominant emotion, such as the students at UC Santa Cruz who shut down the campus, or the students at UC Davis who tried to block Interstate 80 in order to show the rest of the state what it feels like to have your life disrupted by forces beyond your control.

Anger can be a very healthy emotion. It focuses the mind, and can create a sense of determination. That too was on display at the events I attended – a belief that this anger was being expressed in order to build a mass movement of students, faculty, staff, parents, and other Californians who know that this state has no chance whatsoever at prospering in the 21st century if these cuts are not reversed. It is further evidence of how effective and valuable the March 4 actions were.

Students now understand what is happening to them and why. Their education is being gutted and their already meager financial resources are being stolen from them by a state government that believes corporations matter more than students. That propping up the failed status quo matters more than building California’s future. Most of the speakers I heard understood this very clearly, almost instinctively. It has been beaten into them these last two years.

The question now facing this nascent movement is how to channel that anger into action. A movement is being built, but what are its goals? And how will it achieve them? It is both easy and right to say “fuck the budget cuts.” But unless the movement starts working on the solutions, this moment will be lost just as each preceding moment was lost.

In my own brief remarks to the rally at CSUMB, I noted that we had all been here before. In the late 1960s students protested against Governor Ronald Reagan’s fee hikes, but they happened anyway. In the early 1980s students protested against Governor Jerry Brown’s and Governor George Deukmejian’s fee hikes, but they happened anyway. In the early 1990s students protested against Governor Pete Wilson’s fee hikes, but they happened anyway. In the early 2000s students protested against Governor Gray Davis’s and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fee hikes, but they happened anyway.

It is time to break that cycle with action.

The core goal for colleges and universities should be to restore the core pledge of the 1960 Master Plan – that a high quality public college education will be free to all Californians who qualify for it. The core goal for K-12 schools should be similar, that a high-quality public education will be free to all Californians, period. In pursuit of that goal, the movement must be willing to pursue actions and policy changes that will provide the new public funding that a restoration of truly affordable and quality public education requires.

One starting point is AB 656. The Courage Campaign, along with Assemblymember Alberto Torrico (author of AB 656), the California Faculty Association, the University of California Student Association, the California State Student Association, and many other groups have come together to support this bill and to launch a campaign to pass it. $2 billion a year for higher education would go a very long way to helping reverse the recent cuts and fee hikes. It would be a downpayment on the full restoration of the Master Plan, and will need to be followed by other methods of collecting the revenue that our state’s wealthy and large corporations currently control.

Another starting point would be proposals to roll back the $2 billion in corporate tax cuts given in the February 2009 budget deal, the same budget that slashed $9 billion from public schools and began this present downward spiral.

Still another starting point would be the restoration of majority rule to California, whether it’s for the budget in the legislature or for votes to raise revenue at the ballot box, or some combination of these.

These goals must be placed at the core of education movement organizing in the coming weeks and months. Those goals have to be pursued in concert with the necessary defensive actions that have to be fought against people like US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose “Race to the Top” program served as bait to lead California to weaken some of its core educational standards. Those who want to privatize education in order to turn it into a vehicle for profit must be fought as well. No Child Left Behind must be reformed, teachers must become better paid and freed from onerous, pointless, and stupid burdens that so-called reformers are trying to place on them.

And this movement must remain unified as its enemies seek to defeat it through the divide-and-conquer strategy. Attacks on teacher’s unions have become all too common, even among Democrats. Others may try to leverage higher education against K-12 education, or leverage education against other budget priorities such as health care and human services. These too must be resisted.

A “grow the pie” ethos must be embraced by this movement. Student speakers at CSUMB well understood that other kinds of budget cuts, including to health care programs, bite every bit as deeply as the education cuts. That should not hold the movement back from pursuing the goals of taking our money back from the wealthy and the large corporations who took it from us in recent decades, and should instead motivate the movement to ensure that battles such as AB 656 and majority rule are to be cornerstones for the campaign to provide the kind of robust and high-quality public services that used to characterize the California Dream during the era of Pat Brown.

For that to happen, the movement must figure out how to channel anger into action. Determining the agenda for battle will help this movement become the vehicle by which we end 30 years of right-wing policy that has destroyed our state and stolen our future from us.

18 thoughts on “From Anger To Action”

  1. Senate Bill 969 – The California College and University Fee Stabilization Act of 2010 – was introduced by State Senator and Lt Governor Candidate Dean Florez only two weeks ago. This bill would, among several things, lock in student costs at a California system college to that paid on the freshman year.

    This is what I posted in the Roseville Press Enterprise last week about this new legislations. I also would hope that the COURAGE CAMPAIGN would support this LONG TERM fix of the cost of college here in California, as well as another bill concerning college tuition. Sorta a short and long term solution, is a way to look at bills.

    As a parent with a child in Grad School, this proposed legislation to limit yearly tuition costs to 5% will be a huge money saver for parents and students. Better than a big tax cut, perhaps! No matter what your political affiliation is YOU need to make sure this legislation by California State Senator Dean Florez becomes CA law!

    The details:

    SACRAMENTO – Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who spoke out strongly against the recent 32% fee spike at UC campuses, this week introduced legislation to help stabilize student fees for future generations of California students.

    With rates that can remain relatively stable for some time and then skyrocket, it is nearly impossible for parents and students to plan their saving and investments with any sense of confidence the end result will be enough to afford whatever the going rate is by the time they enroll. Even then, the next year may soar out of reach, abruptly ending a dream.

    On Monday, Florez introduced Senate Bill 969 – The California College and University Fee Stabilization Act of 2010 — to remove much of that uncertainty from planning for a college education.

    Senate Bill 969 says that the fee you pay your first year of college is the fee you will pay until you graduate, much as degree graduation requirements are locked in based on what was in place in your year of admission. In addition, SB 969 states that the fee increase from one year’s incoming class to the next can be no more than five percent, so parents can plan ahead for their children’s younger siblings as well.

    “It is of benefit to every one of us to ensure that the best and the brightest students in this state are not kept from reaching their potential by unreasonable and unexpected spikes in tuition rates,” Florez said. “If we are to build and maintain an economy befitting of this great state, we can not make higher education an unattainable dream.”

    Author Note: Take Action Now To Support This Bill. Take the following actions starting TODAY.

    CALL YOUR Legislator in Sacramento in the Senate and Assembly and let them know of your strong support of this bill.

    CALL YOUR High School Parent/Teacher groups and ask them to support this legislation at meetings and any publications they send to parents.

    Call YOUR high school/guidance staff and ask them to support the legislation.

    College and potential college students still in high school. If you get involved in any issue this year, you really should make sure this legislation by Senator Dean Florez becomes a priority on your campus.

    I am sure there are other ways to support this legislation. Use the comment section for your ideas.

  2. By all means, we should do whatever we can to help out our schools whose performance has been declining. That’s why this Fall I’m entering the UC Davis teaching credential program. However being ignorant of the clear benefits of educational reform will not help students. No matter what democratic party ideology asserts, the interests of teachers unions and even local school boards are often opposed to the interests of students. There is a clear trade off available where students get a better education (eg KIPP schools), but it requires teachers to work harder and be more accountable for their actions. Sure, go ahead and increase school funding, but only do so after we have made vital reforms in the effectiveness of our educational and political systems. Being principled about the interests of students will only give the democrats more cred when they oppose foolish “reforms” such as electricity and financial deregulation.  

  3. Pay your own way, like the rest of us taxpayers do. Get back to me when union thugs aren’t setting the education agenda, diverting the tens of billions set aside for education every year down the toilet.

  4. Robert, thank you for support of March4 actions.  Indeed students were impressive.

    I would, however, like to share my concern about KIPP.  Yes, test scores of KIPP students are relatively high compared to low performing schools.  But this is to be expected because the comparison is biased.  KIPP parents and students select the school and in the process make a commitment to above average effort.  Also, studies show that many underperforming students drop-out and are removed from the test population.  

    Beyond this, there is concern that instructional methodology is closer to testprep than the enriched learning environment of Obama’s Sidwell School.

    But, to return to the greater question, the assumption that U.S. public education needs revision, I pose: How can the U.S. Asian subgroup (many of whom are not fluent English speakers) score as high on international comparisons as monocultural, monolingual Japanese or Korean students?  My answer is that U.S. public education is actually quite good and, given the diversity and poverty of U.S. students, U.S. public education is the best in the world.  



Comments are closed.