"I Participate, You Participate, We Participate…They Profit,”
Notes on Revolutionary Educational Activism to Transcend Capital:
The Rouge Forum
Rich Gibson, Greg Queen, E. Wayne Ross and Kevin Vinson
"Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness,
and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is,
necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement,
a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because
the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the
class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself
of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew" (Marx, The German Ideology).
What Is the Rouge Forum?
The Rouge River runs throughout the Detroit area. Once a beautiful river bounteous with fish and plant life, it supported wetlands throughout southeast Michigan. Before industrialization, it was one of three rivers running through what is now the metropolitan territory. Today the Rouge meanders through some of the most industrially polluted areas in the United States, past some of the poorest and most segregated areas of North America, with tributaries leading to one of the richest cities in the US—Birmingham, Michigan. The Rouge cares nothing for boundaries. The other two Detroit rivers were paved early in the life of the city, and now serve as enclosed running sewers. Of the three, the Rouge is the survivor.
The Ford Rouge Plant built before and during World War I was the world's largest industrial complex where everything that went into a Ford car was manufactured. Seeking to extend his control to every aspect of production including the worker's life, mind, and body, in the plant and out, Henry Ford instituted a code of silence, systematically divided workers along lines of national origin, sex, race, language groupings and set up segregated housing for the work force. He designed a, “sociology department,” a group of social workers who demanded entry into workers' homes to ensure "appropriate" family relations and to see that they ate Ford_approved food (like soybeans), voted right, and went to church–the first social workers.
The Rouge Plant is the site that defined "Fordism." Fordism centers on conveyor production, single_purpose machines, mass consumption, mass marketing, relentless surveillance, and seeks to heighten productivity via technique. The processes are designed to strip workers of potentially valuable faculties, like their expertise, to speed production, expand markets, and drive down wages. Fordism sees workers as replaceable machines, but machines capable of consumption.
Henry Ford owned Dearborn and its politicians. Ford was and is an international car-maker and a long_time practitioner of imperialism, the relentless battle for cheap labor, raw materials, markets, and social control that lies (against Lenin) within the origins of capital. And, Henry Ford was a fascist. He contributed intellectually and materially to fascism and his anti_Semitic works compiled in his, “The International Jew,” inspired Hitler. Ford accepted the German equivalent of the Medal of Honor from Hitler, and his factories continued to operate in Germany, untouched by allied bombs, throughout WWII.
At its height, more than 100,000 workers held jobs at the Rouge Plant. Nineteen trains ran on 85 miles of track, mostly in huge caverns under the plant. It was the nation's largest computer center, the third largest producer of glass. It was also its worst polluter. In 1970, the Environmental Protection agency charged the Rouge Plant with nearly 150 violations. When environmentalist volunteers tried to clean the Rouge River in June 1999, they were ordered out of the water. It was too polluted to clean. Today there are 9,000 workers at the Rouge Plant, most of them working in the now Japanese_owned iron foundry, though the great-grandson of Henry I promises to revitalize the plant, despite slipping behind Toyota as the number two automaker in 2007.
In 2006, Ford lost a record $12.7 billion (yes, Billion) and promised to cut 30,000 jobs, to close 30 plants in the next six years. In early 2007 Ford announced that process would accelerate, further devastating Michigan and especially Detroit, where the name “Ford,” graces expressways, a football stadium, a major hospital complex, an auditorium, indicating the power of naming.
Henry Ford I ruthlessly battled worker organizing at the Rouge Plant. His Dearborn cops and goon squad—recruited from Michigan prisons and led by the infamous Harry Bennet who toured Detroit in a Ford convertible in the thirties, with lions in his back seat— killed hunger marchers during the depression, leading to massive street demonstrations. In the May, 1937, “Battle of Overpass,” Ford unleashed his armed goons on United Auto Workers union leaders, a maneuver which led to the battle for collective bargaining at Ford, and was the founding juncture to what was once the largest UAW local in the world, Local 600, led for years by radical and communist organizers.
Later, Ford granted collective bargaining rights and mandatory dues check-off, recognizing that he became the union’s banker and, later still, his grandson readily agreed to organize all new Ford plants for the UAW, rightly seeing the union leadership as a useful disciplinarian for Ford’s workers. By 2007, the UAW, despite a one billion dollar bank account, was dead in the water, having lost one million members from its high water mark of about 1.5 million, and having done nothing at all to mobilize job actions for thirty years, other than to organize to defeat them (Gibson, 2006).
On February 1, 1999, the boilers at the aging Rouge Plant blew up, killing six workers. The plant, according to workers, had repeatedly failed safety inspections. The UAW local president made a statement saying how sorry he was for the families of the deceased—and for William Clay Ford, "who is having one of the worst days of his life." The media presented the workers' deaths as a tough day for the young Ford, who inherited the presidency of the company. The steam went out of Local 600 long ago and the leaders now refer to themselves as "UAW_FORD"—proof that they have inherited the views of the company founder.
“The Rouge” represents the interaction of people, nature, and work as humanity struggles in its great causes of production, reproduction, rational knowledge, and the struggle for freedom. The Rouge never quit; it moves with the resiliency of nature itself. The river and the plant followed the path of industrial life throughout the world. The technological advances created at the Rouge, in some ways, led to better lives. In other ways, technology was used to forge the privilege of the few, at the expense of most—and the ecosystems which brought it to life. The Rouge simultaneously stripped people of humanity, yet united people in new ways, offering the possibility for a cooperative world. The Rouge seemed to be a good place to consider education and social action—to have Rouge Forums.
Generally, the Rouge Forum seeks to bring together educators, students, community activists, and parents seeking a equitable and democratic society; the former governing the latter. We ask questions like these: How can we teach against racism, national chauvinism, and sexism in an increasingly authoritarian, inequitable, and undemocratic society? How can we gain enough real power to keep our ideals and still teach—or learn? Whose interests shall school serve in a society that is ever more unequal? What role can schools play in the transformation of an unjust society? What is it that people need to know, and how do we need to come to know it, in order to take the risks necessary to transform the system of capital into a reasonably caring society where each can exhibit their own creativity?
We in the Rouge Forum are both research and action oriented. We want to learn about equality, democracy and social justice as we simultaneously struggle to bring into practice our present understanding of what that is. We seek to build a caring inclusive community that understands that an injury to one is an injury to all. At the same time, it is recognized that our caring community is going to need to deal decisively with an opposition that is sometimes ruthless.
We have, in practice, followed Marx’s call to, “criticize everything,” bringing into question the viability of our initial call for democracy, reviewing its inter-sections with equality, the need for organizational discipline, and democracy’s bourgeoisie foundations. At the same time, we have enough experience to recognize that we have all been wrong before and that friendship and mutual respect must arch above passionate criticism.
We hope to demonstrate that the power necessary to win greater equity/democracy will likely rise out of an organization that unites people in innovative ways—across union boundaries, across community lines, across the fences of race and sex/gender. Good humor and friendships are a vital part of building this kind of organization, as important as theoretical clarity. Friendships allow us to understand that action always reveals errors—the key way we learn. We initially chose Brer Rabbit as a symbol to underline the good cheer that rightfully guides the struggle for justice. Every part of the world is our briar patch, though as the promise for perpetual war has poisoned the atmosphere, our use of Brer Rabbit has been replaced by other symbols.
Although the first official meeting of the Rouge Forum was held at Wayne State University in Detroit, June 1998, the impetus for this meeting stretches back to 1994 and anti_racist and free speech activism within the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).
Origins of the Rouge Forum : National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix 1994
At the 1994 annual meeting of NCSS in Phoenix, Arizona, two events galvanized a small group of activists. First, a staff person from the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) was arrested for leafleting at the conference; and secondly, the governing body of NCSS rejected a resolution condemning California Proposition 187 and calling for a boycott of California as a site for future meetings of the organization. These events fueled a level of political activism the organization had rarely experienced and identified the need for organized action in support of free speech and anti_racist pedagogy in the field of social studies education in general and within NCSS in particular. Moreover, these events highlighted the unwillingness and inability of the largest professional organization for social studies educators in the United States to respond to serious threats to democracy from within the organization and beyond.
The Arrest and Trials of Sam Diener 1
Sam Diener was arrested for third_degree trespass on Saturday November 19, 1994 at an NCSS sponsored concert of the US Marine Corps Band. At the time, Diener was a staff person for the CCCO and a registered exhibitor at the NCSS conference. The concert was an advertised free public event at the Phoenix Civic Plaza and Convention Center and part of the NCSS program. Before the concert, the Marine Corps distributed recruitment information to the many high school students and teachers in the audience. Diener—whose work with the CCCO focused on countering the expansion of Jr. ROTC in schools—distributed small flyers titled “Keep Guns Out of Our Schools!” at the auditorium’s entrance (see Appendix A). The flyer criticized Jr. ROTC for its expense, discriminatory practices, and militarization of the schools. Denier attended the concert and at intermission after, he began leafleting again, security guards seized him from behind and arrested him. When Diener protested a security guard responded that he was acting on orders from the leadership of NCSS. Diener was handcuffed and carried away from the auditorium by police.
After his arrest and release, Diener along with Mike Wong, also a CCCO staff person, began distributing a leaflet titled “Free Speech Censored at NCSS” to NCSS conference_goers (see Appendix B) and lobbying NCSS leadership for an opportunity to present his case and have NCSS drop the charges. The President of NCSS, Bob Stahl, a professor at Arizona State University, refused to allow Diener to address the organization’s governing body, the House of Delegates, however, he did invite the Director of the Phoenix Civic Plaza, Wendy Thompson, to present a justification for Denier’s arrest to the delegates at their November 20 session. David Hursh (1998) described the debate that followed as “chilling.”
As the one_sided version of the events was given, portraying Diener as disrupting the concert, members of the audience [primarily social studies teachers with leadership positions in state level social studies councils] ridiculed Deiner’s leafleting and many portrayed leafleting as a major crime. Some…suggested Diener should go to jail with “the key thrown away.” (p. 3)
Stephen C. Fleury, a member of the House of Delegates presented Diener’s version of events based on the free speech leaflet Diener and Wong had been distributing. Fleury described the scene this way:
As I began to read Diener’s story, I felt momentary relief when the delegates began to laugh at what I perceived to be the absurdity and irony of Diener’s arrest. Relief was quickly replaced with horror, however, when I realized the delegates’ were amused that Diener (and others advocating for him) might believe that social activism was reasonable behavior at a social studies education conference…When the final vote was taken, however, the appeal to exonerate Diener was soundly defeated. (Fleury, 1998, pp. 4_5)
Following the House of Delegates fiasco, Hursh and E. Wayne Ross, worked with Diener to update the free speech leaflet (subtitled “The Saga Continues”) and distribute them at the convention center (see Appendix C). Later that day, the executive director of NCSS, Martharose Laffey, threatened Diener with a lawsuit if the leafleting continued. On Monday November 21, Diener was allowed to present his case to the NCSS Board of Directors, but the Board refused to take action to avert Diener’s upcoming arraignment.
On Tuesday, November 22, Diener was arraigned and charged with trespassing. While the judge dismissed his case at a May 1995 pretrial hearing, Phoenix prosecutors later appealed the decision fearing that Diener’s case would set a precedent in which events held in the Civic Plaza by non_governmental organizations would be subject to rules of free speech. At his April 1997 trial, the judge ruled that the First Amendment did not apply to this case and Diener was found guilty and fined $90. Diener appealed on grounds that his free speech rights were violated and that exculpatory evidence was suppressed—e.g., an affidavit by Convention Center director Thompson claiming that while NCSS officials stated they did not want to allow Diener’s leafleting at the concert that the Civic Plaza authorities were responsible for the arrest. Thompson’s affidavit contradicted her pretrial hearing testimony and in February 1998 an appellate court agreed with Diener and dismissed the case. So after more than three years and four judicial hearings Diener prevailed.
Hursh (1998) points out that the Diener incident raises questions about whether the leading organization of civic educators in the US tolerates the expression of diverse views. As Judge Alice Wright ruled at the pretrial hearing, Diener was ordered to leave the Civic Plaza “solely because of the content of the leaflets.” Additionally, actions of NCSS indicated that as an organization it supports the militarization of schools and society. Finally, Hursh argues that “the events surrounding Diener’s arrest, the discussion in the NCSS House of Delegates, and the multiple appeals on the part of the prosecution, can only be interpreted as an effort to quash free speech.”
CUFA, Proposition 187, and the Boycott of California
In November of 1994—the same month the Denier imbroglio began—California voters passed the “Save Our State” initiative, also known as Proposition 187. Provisions of the measure denied health care, social services, and public education to immigrants without documentation. Under this law all city, county, and state officials in California (including teachers, counselors, and social workers) would be required to report any “suspicious” persons to the US Immigration and Nationalization Service, nullifying the sanctuary ordinances in many localities.
A few weeks after Proposition 187 passed, the College and University Faculty Assembly of NCSS, 2 meeting in Phoenix, adopted a resolution condemning Proposition 187 and boycotting California as a future site for CUFA meetings. 3 A similar resolution presented to the NCSS House of Delegates in Phoenix was rejected by an overwhelming majority (see Fleury, 1998 for an account of these proceedings). Ironically, the 1994 annual meeting of NCSS (and CUFA) was being held in Phoenix as a result of a NCSS boycott of Denver (its planned meeting site for 1994) in response to an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution that denied protection against discrimination based sexual orientation.
Following the Phoenix meeting, a small group of CUFA and NCSS members worked together as the Emergency Committee of Social Educators for Social Justice to publicize CUFA's decision to boycott California and encourage other professional education organization to do the same. Over 500 press releases announcing CUFA's actions were sent to media outlets, professional organizations, elected officials, and convention and tourism bureaus in California. NCSS responded by attempting to suppress the Emergency's Committee's work; while the elected leadership of CUFA took no action to implement the resolution's provisions (Ross, 1997, 1998). The debate within CUFA regarding action (or non_action) on the boycott issue remained on low heat for several years despite a special symposium on "The Role of Social Studies Educators as Scholars and Advocates" at CUFA's 1995 meeting in Chicago.
In the spring of 1997—three and a half years after the initiative was passed by California voters—the NCSS Board of Directors condemned California Proposition 187 (as well as the anti_affirmative action Proposition 209) and planned to provide a forum at the 1998 NCSS Annual Conference in Anaheim "to educate the social studies community and the public about the significant issues involved" in these measures. In addition, the NCSS Board decided to boycott California as a meeting site while Propositions 187 and 209 were in effect (More on CUFA's Resolution, p. 4). The NCSS Board of Directors barely managed to pass this resolution (the vote was 9 to 8 with 3 abstentions), even though nearly every other leading education organization in the US had taken a similar stand years earlier.
In November 1997, at annual meetings of NCSS and CUFA in Cincinnati, both groups retreated from previous decisions on the California boycott. The NCSS Board of Directors made a sudden behind-closed-doors about_face rescinding their spring decision, apparently under pressure from leaders of the California Council for the Social Studies.
The Executive Director of NCSS—who had previously threatened a lawsuit against leafleteer Denier—was invited by the elected leaders of CUFA to speak to members at their business meeting in Cincinnati. In her speech, Martharose Laffey advocated rescinding the original CUFA resolution, stating that the organization should not be "sidetracked by seductive but not so important issues" of racism and national chauvinism as represented in California Propositions 187 and 209. Following Laffey's comments and further debate, CUFA members voted by a 2 to 1 margin to reverse the 1994 boycott resolution and hold its 1998 meeting in Anaheim. (CUFA members, however, did vote to boycott California as a site for future meetings, as long as Proposition 187 was in effect.)
The CUFA reversal had a dramatic and immediate effect. Several leading members of the organization passionately condemned the move and resigned from the organization, including two African American board members—one of whom described the directions of CUFA and NCSS as in conflict with "deeply held convictions about social justice, equity, and democracy" (Ladson_Billings, 1998). In addition, the NCSS African American Educators of Social Studies special interest group decided it would not convene in Anaheim.
A small group of CUFA members (who became the founding members of the Rouge Forum) argued that it turned reality on its head to suggest that taking action against racism and national chauvinism was a diversion from the work of social studies educators. Instead, they argued that the battle against irrationalism is exactly what should be taken up by the intellectuals of CUFA. Many CUFA members believed that the primary issue was the unity and solidarity of the two organizations (CUFA and NCSS). In a speech from the floor of the CUFA membership meeting in Cincinnati, Rich Gibson argued that unity and solidarity were indeed important, however the questions were: “Solidarity with whom? Around what purposes? Toward what end?”
Despite its reversal on the boycott, prior to the end of the Cincinnati meeting CUFA members voted that the 1998 Anaheim program should focus on analysis of the impact of racism and national chauvinism in educational institutions. And subsequently, a Diversity and Social Justice Committee was formed under the leadership of Susan Noffke, which has continued efforts to push forward these issues within CUFA.
Seven months later, an informal group was organized and held its first meeting in Detroit. The meeting of perhaps 300 education activists was described by one participant as a, “72 hour conversation without end.” People came and went, the agenda flowed with the ideas of attendees. Many found it a refreshing change from the routine of reading papers to each other. One important advantage was having access to a venue that was open 24 hours a day, offering a large room for plenaries and small breakout rooms—at no cost; testimony to the working class roots of Wayne State University which remain, despite a restructuring which shifts the campus emphasis from educating the working class, to profiting from a huge medical complex.
Toward the close of the meeting, we chose the name, Rouge Forum, after the Rouge plant, and all of its implications. We have never been troubled with the relationship to the French, “red,” but that was not on the minds of the locals to whom Rouge means a river, and a huge factory, in death throes, and the possibility to overcome. Since, we have been accused of being nothing but reds (hardly true, liberal democrats, libertarians, four US troops in Iraq, socialists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, and many others belong to the Rouge Forum.) One vehement critic came up with the quasi-logical stretcher, “You people named yourself deliberately after the Khmer Rouge.” We’ve stuck with the name for a decade and the reds inside the Rouge Forum seem comfortable with the action-oriented liberals, and vice versa. Friendship, the humility of knowing all have been wrong before, sacrifice for the common good (solidarity), all remain understood, if unstated, ethics of the Rouge Forum.
Continued activism within CUFA and NCSS remained a major topic of discussion at this meeting—issues included: continuing the dialogue on overt political action by both CUFA and NCSS; the social and political responsibilities of educators; the role of researchers and research findings in ameliorating social ills; and the unique position of social studies curriculum and teaching as a force against racism and fascism. The ideas and actions of these social studies educators and their actions at the NCSS conferences during this period illustrate the activist roots of the Rouge Forum.
The following section explains a key operative principle for the actions of the Rouge Forum—the idea that schools hold a centripetal position in North American society and educators play a critical role in the creation of a more democratic egalitarian society, or one that increases inequality and authoritarianism. At issue for the Rouge Forum, as Gibson and Ross succinctly put it in a 3007 article in Counterpunch, “school workers do not need to be missionaries for capitalism, and schools its missions....” (Gibson, Ross, Counterpunch, February, 2007).
The Centripetal Position of Schools in North American Society 4
Schools hold a centripetal and centrifugal positions in North American society. One in four people in the US are directly connected to schools: school workers, students, parents. Many others are linked in indirect ways. Schools are the pivotal organizing point for most people's lives, in part, because of the de-industrialized nature of North America and, in part, the absence of serious struggle emanating from the industrial working class, despite its historical civilizing influence.
School is not merely school, but the point of origin for health care, food, and daytime shelter and safety for many people. Schools are also huge markets (consider the bus purchases, architectural and building costs, salaries, and potential for corruption), as well as bases for technological instruction and skill training. Schools warehouse children, serving as an important tax supported day care system for companies whose increasingly poorly paid workers come from dual income family who see their children an average of 20 hours less a week than they did in 1979. The beginning point in understanding the role teachers play as major actors in a centripetally positioned organization is to understand the value teachers create within capitalist societies. This is what Marx had to say:
The only worker who is productive is one who produces surplus value for the capitalist, or in other words contributes to the self_valorization of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of material production, a schoolmaster is a productive worker when, in addition to belaboring the heads of his pupils, he works himself into the ground to enrich the owner of the school. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation. The concept of a productive worker therefore implies, not merely a relation between the activity of work and its useful effect, between the worker and the product of the work, but also a specific social relation of production, a relation with a means of valorization. To be a productive worker is therefore not a piece of luck, but a misfortune. (Marx, 1977, p. 644)
How do teachers create surplus value, adding to the self_valorization of capital? Teachers are both commodities and commodifiers. They train skills, promote ideologies, make possible institutional profiteering (consider milk or cola sales, architects, textbooks, bus makers, etc.) and above all teachers fashion hope, real or false. When schools fail in their role of fabricating hope, rebellion routinely follows, as France, 1968, demonstrated.
It follows that teachers create terrific value, not only in passing along what is known, but how it comes to be known; not just facts, or even dubious facts, but world views. Schools are battlegrounds in the combat for what is true. If the dominant rival on the field conceals the battle_fronts (like the very existence of exploitation), the other can reveal them, in work, knowledge, love, and the struggle for freedom--- and by holding the schools to their contradictory claims: schools for democratic citizenry or schools for capitalism. In schools the possible questions are: Can we understand the world? Can we change it?
While there is struggle on any job, in schools the struggle represents every aspect of social life, from the struggle over what is true, to the struggle for or against the military and war (of the 49 million youth in U.S. schools in 2005, ½ of them would be draft eligible in the following four years), to the struggle over wages, hours and working conditions, and the struggle for hope itself—as before, when hope vanishes, uprisings often follow. However, it is clear that schools embedded within a capitalist nation, especially capital’s most favored nation, are capitalist schools, their schools, not ours, until such time social upheavals or civil strife are at such a stage that schooling is either dramatically upended, or freedom schools operating outside capital’s school supercede them.
There is a pervasive myth about the public nature of tax-funded schools. There is, after all, no single public U.S. school system, but perhaps six or seven different (inequitably garnered) tax-paid systems, each teaching different substance, with educators using differing methods. For example, some schools in Detroit are pre-prison schools and pre-Walmart schools. As one heads into the Detroit suburbs, one encounters pre-teacher schools, and toward the upper end, pre-doctor or lawyer schools. The ruling classes rarely send their children to public schools. Rather, they choose privates, like Michigan’s Cranbrook, seated on acres of rolling green lawns in Bloomfield Hills. Or, they use private foundations to subsidize their segregated public schools, as in Lajolla, California where students have swimming pools and science labs while their black and brown counterparts to the south often do not have chairs.
A paradox of school is that the freedom to struggle for the methods to gain and test truth is often greatest in the richest and poorest schools where, in the former, parents and administrators seem to think that the lures of reading Marx will be overwhelmed by the Lexus waiting in the parking lot, and in the former, few people care what is taught, administrators focusing solely on test scores. However, too many youth learn that the construction of rational knowledge is a waste of time, undesirable; the crowing success of capitalist schooling. Even so, teaching against the destruction of reason is possible in US public schools–more so than on most jobs-- though the nooses of standardization and testing tighten each day.
The Rouge Forum took the lead in North America in re-establishing the role of Marxism and class struggle in education during a period where the “left,” in education was reigned by postmodernist opportunists of all stripes, and the right sought to silence any form of dissent.
Given that the crisis of the present age is not merely a crisis of material scarcity, but also crisis of consciousness—that is, the abundance that is necessary for a democratic and egalitarian society is at hand, what is missing is the decision to gain it—the role of educators in creating critical, class, consciousness is even more vital. A base of solidarity, structured with an understanding of the collective value school workers of all kinds create, and the subsequent struggle to control value in the workplace and community makes defense possible.
The processes of school can, done well, go beyond demonstrating the well-springs of social change and justice, but the processes may or may not involve people in its construction in daily life. The counter_current to the democratic abolition of thought (quite possible in the emergence of fascism) is not solely to be found in the contradictory interests of production, but in the inexorable struggle for what is true.
Intellectual and practical work, the social praxis of school, are bases for the necessary envisioning of a better world and how to live in it. Clearly, it is not material conditions alone that challenge capital as the mother of inequality and injustice. But rather, a profound understanding of how things are, how they change, and how we might live in better ways—in solidarity and creativity—that makes social change possible, and lasting.
In this context, in de_industrialized North America, where there is little reason to believe the industrial working class will be an initiator for democratic change for some time to come, school workers are positioned to assemble ideas which can take on an international import, and to assist in practices to challenge injustice. Social change can emanate out from schools, if it cannot be completed by school workers and students.
The Rouge Forum seeks answers to “what is up?” "what is to be done?" and "why do it?" and takes these questions of social justice as a life and death issue—in schools and out. Being both research and action oriented, the Rouge Forum seeks to critique and engage in a reasoned struggle against standards_based education and high_stakes tests—lynchpins in the continued corporate hegemony of school. And the Rouge Forum identified and acted on a second choke point in schools, the military, especially military recruiters but also the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
In regard to the latter, Rouge Forum members have played supportive roles in city coalitions focused on driving recruiters and ROTC off k12 campuses, on the grounds that the lies of war have nothing to do with gaining and testing knowledge in a relatively free atmosphere: the project of schooling. However, there has been debate in the Rouge Forum about the wisdom of urging all youth out of the military (four Rouge Forum members are in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan at this writing), when if social change is to be taken seriously, some youth will need to be urged in to the service, and in addition, for some youth the military service might be safer than home, just as school frequently is. Work against the military, though, has been second-tier compared to Rouge Forum action against what are called, “The Big Tests.”
Why Standards_Based Educational Reforms & High_Stakes Testing
are Key Rouge Forum Issues 5
There is no place in the world that is growing more equitable and more democratic. To the contrary, commonly color_coded gaps of wealth and income expand across continents and within national populations. Carrot and stick, divide and conquer politics prevail behind a mask of globalism and prosperity. Total quality management, worker_to_worker campaigns, cooperative learning in schools, provide a Potemkin Village for the realities of exploitation and alienation. Talk of community is silenced by institutionalized pure selfishness, the hubris of power and privilege: arrogant warfare for markets, cheap labor, and raw materials. Freedom of choice becomes a pretense for a declining number of meaningful options.
Elites do not want citizens to understand how to unravel the roots of power. Moreover, elites do not want power, a corollary of fear, noticed. Instead, privilege wants to rule under flags of democracy, tradition, patriotism, respectability, reasonableness, and perhaps above all, habit. This sums up to a numbing assault on human creativity and sensuality on one hand, and a razor_sharp hierarchical ordering, made possible by largesse and a ferocious willingness to use terror and violence, on another.
The system of capital, grown by the war of all on all, requires profits, but is as deeply concerned with ideas, the consciousness necessary to make people instruments of their own oppression. No society reliant solely on technological might and the lures of covetousness–_a society that cannot trust its citizens—can last very long. The injustice requisite within the birthrights of the capital system is permanent, however, standardized curriculum and high_stakes tests are not and the reasoned struggle against them offers ways to come to better understand routes to challenge injustice.
Regulating Education and the Economy 6
What has truly set the Rouge Forum apart from other schools-based groups in North America is the limited courage it took to link the system of capital to imperialism, to endless war, to the necessity of regimented curricula and high-stakes exams, a spiral of events that cannot be disconnected. Only the Rouge Forum has made these connections.
Indeed, without a crystal ball nor the cursed prescience of Cassandra, Rouge Forum leaders began to warn middle school teachers, in 1998, “you are looking at the soldiers in the next oil war,” and warned that the Big Tests were a pipeline to the military and meaningless, imperialist-based homeland jobs.
The Rouge Forum stood alone in developing a strategic and tactical analysis of existing conditions, even before 2001. This outlook was summed up by Rich Gibson in a keynote speech at the Rouge Forum conference in 2007:
Our current context is this: An international war of the rich on the poor, within that national wars based on inter-imperialist rivalry,
within that appeals to nationalism, uniting people against false claims of united national interests when the very real divide is social class,
Within that, rising irrationalism, like religious mysticism,
and rising racism, often born from religion, segregation to the point of incarcerating 2.1 million,
Rising inequality as the rich grow much richer, the working classes get laid off and poorer,
A media and cultural concentration on spectacles, like Anna Nicole, football, Judge Judy, while the question, “what war?” can be easily asked as war is on page five of USA Today,
Constant surveillance into every aspect of life,
The eradication of what were once limited liberties won by the industrial and earlier, even pre-industrial working classes, like the end of habeas corpus,
Massive indebtedness within the US, and between the US and, especially, China,
Nearly shocking imperial overstretch, with 739 permanent bases around the world
and a secret military budget,
A military fully exposed as weak, incompetent, and cowardly, but stretched so thin that a draft is surely on the horizon,
Rising imperial rivals like Russia and China who also desperately need that oil, the cheap labor, and markets, of the world and especially the Caspian and Middle-East regions,
A government fully exposed as an executive committee, and weapon of violence, of the rich.
And, as before, we are at a pivotal point in history, with financial and military crises at hand–handmaidens to the emergence of fascism.
Gibson went on to emphasize that resistance will take place as people are positioned in ways they must fight back; they have no choice, like the wildcat strikers who led the Detroit teachers in two illegal job actions, the California Grocery strikers, and the massive immigrant-worker general strike in the U.S. on Mayday, 2006. At issue, however, is whether people can make sense of their circumstances, take charge of their collective lives, fight for fundamental change in a manner that can sustain whatever is won, that is, to build a class conscious movement.
The Big Tests are designed to obliterate such a movement. The primary justification for the imposition of standardized curricula and/or the seizure of local schools by the state/corporate alliances (such as occurred in Detroit and numerous other cities) has been poor test scores and high drop out rates, even though both of these measures are less a reflection of student ability or achievement than a measure of parental income. And, elites have argued that standardized curricula and high-stakes exams are a method of equalizing education, making the U.S. a greater meritocracy.
Since these same elites in the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II regime are the people who demolished the social safety net in the U.S., who now lobby hard to maintain a health care system that denies about 1/4 of the children in the U.S. health care, and who do nothing about the massive homeless problem (setting aside their efforts outside the empire’s homeland, like the hundreds of thousands of deaths of Iraqi children during the pre-war sanction period), we dismiss that claim about equity out of hand. Instead, we choose to treat the question of the tests.
The research over the past two decades indicates test_based educational reforms do not lead to better educational policies and practices. Indeed, such testing often leads to educationally unjust consequences and unsound practices. These include increased drop_out rates, teacher and administrator de_professionalization, loss of curricular integrity, outright corruption, increased cultural insensitivity, and disproportionate allocation of educational resources into testing programs, and not into hiring qualified teachers and providing enriching sound educational programs (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; Haney, 2000).
It is clear that scores on high_stakes standardized tests as well as drop_out rates are directly related to poverty, and none of the powers demanding school standardization or seizure appears seriously prepared to address this condition. The Rouge Forum has consistently maintained that the origins of the standards_based education reform are a direct result of increased inequality and authoritarianism–and war preparations. In fact, high_stakes tests are used to rationalize inequality and authoritarianism to promote the loyalty and obedience that are at the heart of nationalism, and slavishness.
Paradoxically, though perhaps unsurprisingly, states have increasingly sought to punish low_scoring (read less wealthy) schools and districts by cutting funding that might help them raise their all_important test scores and become more “like” (via smaller classes, greater resources, increased staffing, modernized facilities) wealthier (read high_scoring) schools. Although the established pro_standardization position has been hit with at least some degree of criticism—notably both from the Right, which sees standards_based reform as imposing on local school district autonomy, and from the Left, which sees it as racist, sexist, and classist—one fascinating feature of the consensus view remains its willingness to take such criticism seriously yet still maintain that it can satisfactorily be accommodated by and/or assimilated within the prevailing framework. Thus while particular positions may differ marginally on the specifics (the devil is in the details), the demand for standards_based reform itself—the standardization imperative—goes unchallenged, at least among the alliance of conservative and liberal politicians, corporate elites, chief school officers, and teacher union leaders.
Ensconced within this alliance is an insidious move on the part of elite stakeholders toward the corporate/state regulation and administration of knowledge, a move that enables what Noam Chomsky calls “systems of unaccountable power” to make self_interested decisions ostensibly on behalf of the public when, in fact, most members of the public have no meaningful say in what or how decisions are made or in what can count as legitimate knowledge. This, of course, is purposeful and involves the coordinated control of such pedagogical processes as goal_setting, curriculum development, testing, and teacher education/ evaluation, the management of which works to restrict not only what and who can claim the status of “real” knowledge, but also who ultimately has access to it (see Mathison & Ross, 2002).
Moreover, these consensus elites are among the same powerful few who make decisions about and promote such neoliberal (imperialist) policies and institutions as GATT, NAFTA, and the WTO as good for the American public. What exists here is an unambiguous, power_laden connection between the regulation of knowledge on the one hand and the regulation of the economy on the other, a joint effort by the politically, culturally, and economically powerful (nominally on behalf of the public) designed to stifle democracy while simultaneously enhancing the profits of multinational corporations and the ultra_rich. It is a reproductive and circular system, a power_knowledge_economics regime in which the financial gains of a few are reinforced by what can count as school (thus social) knowledge, and in which what can count as knowledge is determined so as to support the financial greed of corporations.
A conspicuous example is the social studies curriculum where, as John Marciano (1997) in Civic Illiteracy and Education argues, “students are ethically quarantined from the truth about what the U.S. has done in their name.” This is particularly true with regard to US perpetrated and sponsored aggression abroad, which is most often represented to students as unfortunate or accidental by_products of essentially humane policies that serve the “national interests,” while what constitutes the latter remains unexamined. Those who administer the economy in their own self_interests are those who regulate the production and dissemination of knowledge and vice versa, all the while working superficially in the public interest but intentionally excluding any authentic public involvement.
From a progressive perspective standards_based reforms fail on a number of related levels. Inherently anti_democratic, such efforts oppose, for example, the bourgeoisie democrat John Dewey’s two “democratic criteria,” exemplified in Democracy and Education, of “more numerous and more varied points of shared common interest” and “freer interaction between social groups,” both of which weigh heavily on the origins and evolution of US public schooling. Further, standards_based education reforms are oppressive, illustrating in practice not only the late pseudo-radical Catholic educator Paulo Freire’s widely read concepts of “banking education” and “prescription,” but also contemporary political theorist Iris Marion’s (1992) notion of the “five faces of oppression” (namely exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence). In sum, standards_based reform privileges certain images of education (for instance, those media critiques of schooling based upon test scores, which the liberals David Berliner and Bruce Biddle debunk in The Manufactured Crisis) over the somewhat more authentic (if utterly segregated) experiences of everyday classroom life. Too frequently such images themselves end up promoting the “corporate good” at the expense of any reasonable understanding of the “collective good,” particularly problematic since the extension of the collective good is ostensibly the reason more or less public schools exist in the first place (see Vinson & Ross, in press).
In 2007, Gibson and Ross summarized the Rouge Forum position on liberal reformers like U.S. teacher union leaders who sought, not to abolish, but improve, the NCLB:
We support the rising tide of education worker resistance to the high_stakes exams, as well as student and educator boycotts. We are sharply opposed to those false_flag reformers who seek to do anything but abolish the NCLB, its tests, and its developing national curriculum.
Liberal reformers on this bent simply lend credence to a government that stands fully exposed as a weapon of violence for the rich, they disconnect the clear class and race domination in not_so public schooling from the empire's wars, and they mislead people into believing the dishonest motives of prime NCLB proponents. Above all, through their clear opposition to direct action versus the big tests... they simultaneously seek to destroy the leadership of a movement that could actually succeed, build support for laws and a state solely in service to capitalism, and they once again try to teach people that others, usually elites, will solve our problems, a vile diversion from the fact that no one is going to save us but the united action of us (Gibson/Ross 2007).
The first Rouge Forum in Detroit, was guided by the assumption that educators are centripetally positioned in our society; that they need to take clear and decisive stands on the side of the vast majority of citizens who are objectively hurt by racism and national chauvinism. From this initial assumption the Rouge Forum began its work within social studies professional organizations, but also built alliances with educators in the fields of special education and literacy as well as parents and students; and worked within the two major teacher unions.
Reaching Out: Building Connections and Grassroots Organizing 7
These are times that test the core of every educator. In the context of an international war of the rich on the poor intensified and thrown into hyper_speed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, economic collapse, harsh political repression, and in schools the necessarily related rise of standardized high_stakes exams, school takeovers, vouchers, discrete phonics instruction, merit pay, militarization, and the corporatization of schools under the guise of national unity— all combine to call into question what we are and what we stand for. The collaboration of teachers' unions leaders (whose high salaries—$450,000 for the National Education Associations Reg Weaver—are directly tied to the fruits of imperialism as demonstrated by the ties of the NEA, the American Federation of Teachers, and the CIA sponsored National Endowment for Democracy) and many professional organizations in these international trends has raised many concerns.
The underlying complex processes of intensifying nationalism, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, irrationalism and forms of oppression, self_imposed or not, often seem overpowering, a series of small bullets coming in fast unison, so fast that it feels as if ducking one creates dozens of wounds from others. How shall we keep our ideals and still teach and learn?
In recent years, the impact of being a common target caused several members of distinct educational movements to come together for joint projects. Some groups are more seriously considering the power of interdependence in seeking reason and social justice. As a result, advocates of the whole language approach to literacy education, inclusion, and critical pedagogy are engaging in more dialogue and have began to work together, to re_discover their natural unity–_and seeing serious differences at the same time. The crux of those differences seems to revolve around the question: Can capitalism be reformed, tamed, made gentler, or not and, if not, then what? What comes of educational activism that does not address the system of capital?
A Natural Unity?: Whole Language, Inclusion and Critical Pedagogy
For a time, many people within the U.S. whole language movement saw their outlook as simply a teaching philosophy, a method, one that stood outside politics. The inclusive education movement likewise was viewed less politically. The idea of special education inclusion, however, has challenged ideologies and career paths at all levels. At the same time, the purportedly political critical pedagogy movement became so divorced from daily life in the socio_political world, so steeped in the idealist religion of postmodernism, that it lost sight of ways in which social change can be activated.
Perhaps born in the same well_springs, the three movements diverged so completely that they lost sight of one another. A few well_known individuals from each camp stay in touch and reach out to school_workers, parents, and students to demonstrate the inseparability of political work, whole language, and critical teaching. Among this group at the university level, Patrick Shannon, Susan Ohanian, Carol Edelsky, Gerry Oglan, Wayne Ross, Kevin Vinson, Steve Fleury, and Michael Peterson, stand out. (Appendix D describes some tenets of whole language, critical pedagogy, and inclusive education that provide a springboard for speculating about their intersections and illustrates their inter_relationships.)
The Rouge Forum takes careful note of a social shift in North America, deindustrialization, which has made schools, rather than industrial work places, the central organizing point of life. This means, among many other things, that the industrial working class in the US probably cannot, for the time being, be the driving force for social justice. People in schools (which could not be outsourced) were now placed in that position. The Rouge Forum argues that, the key question facing the world now—What is it that people need to know and how do they need to come to know it in order to arrange society in ways so they can be free, democratic, and creative?—is no longer just a question of industrial production, but rather it is a pedagogical one.
Critical pedagogy advocates have sometimes failed to acknowledge the elitist roots of their theory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Mind, as in Freire’s heavy borrowing from Hegel’s chapter eight in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Gibson, 1994). In some instances, critical pedagogy has served the interests of new elites rather than the interests of social democracy and economic equality, as in the ease with which banks and corporations took over Freire’s claim to a critical method and used it in training programs.
In this sense, critical pedagogy has failed the test of material equality. Too often, critical pedagogy has located the source of oppression in the minds of people, rather than in a relationship of mind, matter, and motion: ideas linked to the understanding of alienated labor and class struggle, internalized oppression and authoritarian sexual relationships, and the fear of freedom and change (see Hill, McLaren, Cole & Ritkowski, 2002; McLaren, 2000). A truly exploratory, investigative pedagogy holds everything open to critique—but when it abandons reason and social practice as the test of knowledge, it becomes a system of oppression–an apostle for capitalism in new garb, speaking in obtuse tongues.
The message of Whole Language is centered on the totality, the wholeness, inter_relatedness of knowledge. The focus of the inclusion movement has been the unity of people, all people. The heart of critical pedagogy is, or should be, that we can understand and transform the world—in the interest of masses of people. Whole Language, however, accepts uncritically the mental/manual division of labor that is academia, and a further division. Most whole language leaders believe it is simply good that people read, ignoring what people read, toward what end? 1930's Germany and Japan were among the most literate societies in the world at the time; a problem in that the nations’ peoples so quickly became fascists. Moreover, in ignoring the system of capital that surrounds all education activity, most whole language leaders seem to be partial to creating segmented people who want to simply reason their way beyond what is really still a Master/Slave relationship, most people set up to lose. Absent an analysis of capital, they seek to rely on its government to solve problems, to replace bad phonics based programs with good whole language programs. Even so, the freedom (especially freedom of time to build close human ties) that has to stand as a beginning point for whole language, inclusive education, and critical pedagogy, means that there is at least a limited insurgent foundation for each movement.
In 1997, colleagues from Michigan and Wisconsin collaboratively developed a framework for improving schools that draws from and builds on the experiences of progressive school reform organizations nationally, particularly Accelerated Schools, Comer's School Development Program, Howard Gardner's Project Zero, and Ted Sizer's Coalition for Essential Schools. Like the developers of these programs we were concerned with several continuing facts of schooling:
(1) Lack of connections among schools, families, and communities; (2) Dominant instructional strategies that are disjointed, purposeless, boring and disconnected from the real lives as well as family and community experience of students; and (3) The need for democratic processes of decision_making in schools that empower students, families, teachers, and other school staff. Moreover, we have also been concerned about the lack of explicit attention to two major additional dimensions of schooling: (4) The ongoing segregation of students with different learning styles and abilities into special programs for students with disabilities, at risk, gifted, limited English proficiency; and (5) The lack of attention to the social and political context of schooling—the increasing inequality in schools and communities, pressures for standardized testing that separate students, families, and whole communities and educational workers—by race, socio_economic status, and ability. (See http://golem.coe.wayne.edu/CommunityBuilding/WSC.html)
On the whole, we agreed that the following factors comprise what we called an honest education:
A teacher/student/community search for what is true, gaining and testing ideas in a reasonably free atmosphere where passion and joy are privileged;
Exploratory curricula linked to the world and a specific community (e.g., let's map a Detroit playground, now let's map a playground in Grosse Pointe—and then a playground in Grenada);
Critical and anti_racist curricula—as in analyzing the history and practice of racism;
Pedagogy and content rooted in democracy (e.g., how come Detroiters’ votes count so little when it comes to casinos or their school board_or at work or school?);
Meaningful and creative pedagogy fashions a meeting of the teachers and the students where they are at (e.g., let's design our plan for the year together; understanding that we all start at different places, but that we want to head in the same direction),
Inclusive and hence rational schools (e.g., crossing boundaries of race, sex, and ability not only in the studies but in who is present in the classroom).
By 1997 our discussions had produced what came to be called the Whole Schooling model for school reform, which is based on five principles. These are summarized below.
Empower citizens in a democracy: The goal of education is to help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy.
Include all: All children learn together across culture, ethnicity, language, ability, gender and age.
Authentic teaching and adapting for diverse learners: Teachers design instruction for diverse learners that engages them in active learning in meaningful, real_world activities; develop accommodations and adaptations for learners with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.
Build community and support learning: The school uses specialized school and community resources (special education, Title I, gifted education) to build support for students, parents, and teachers. All work together to build community and mutual support within the classroom and school; provide proactive supports for students with behavioral challenges.
Partner with families and the community: Educators build genuine collaboration within the school and with families and the community; engage the school in strengthening the community; and provide guidance to engage students, parents, teachers, and others in decision_making and direction of learning and school activities.
Taken separately, nothing distinguishes these principles from the infinite number of reform projects that have blown through the schools in the last century. Taken as a whole, however, especially considering the political and social implications of teaching for democracy, equality, and inclusion, there has been nothing of the sort in school reform that we are aware of.
In addition, Rouge Forum members sought to restore to the curricula the central issues of life, typically illegal in the tax paid school systems: work (the study of the labor movement which invariably leads not only to exploitation, but Marx), knowledge (the construction of reason, superceding religious mysticism and superstition), love (aesthetics, creativity, sensuality, that is, sexual reproduction, etc) and freedom (that relentless battle in any workplace which also must be the groundwork of any serious pedagogical project).
Expanding the Rouge Forum Issues
The Rouge Forum has been able to move to a leading role in school_based resistance. As the only group in North America that has connected imperialism, war, and the regulation of schooling, “The Rouge Forum No Blood For Oil” web page became a focus of activity, both for researchers interested in a chronology of material related to the current and future oil wars, and for activists. Using a network developed over five years of organizing in colleges of education and in K12 schools, the Rouge Forum, for example, initiated calls for school strikes, teach_ins, and freedom schools, which were adopted and carried out by school workers, students, and parents all over the US at the outset of Iraq invasion II in 2003. The calls for action swept well beyond the Rouge Forum’s limited online base, cyberspace serving as a new outlet for organizing action.
Clearly because the Rouge Forum leadership shifted focus from opposing standardized tests to opposing a war and the tests, and because the organization sharpened its open criticism of capitalism, 374 people asked to leave the member_subscriber base by the end November 2001. They were replaced, though, by more than 1,000. By 2007, the subscriber base was at 4400, though it had remained so for three years, showing no quantitative growth.
There are serious limitations to the Rouge Forum work. Internally, the egalitarian and democratic outlook of its key personnel has not been matched by a structure reflecting their mind set, or such was the case until the March 2007 Detroit Rouge Forum conference where the participants set up a steering committee with regional coordinators, easily identified chapters, so that anyone walking into the Rouge Forum could see where they might best exhibit their talents, yet remain as public or non-public as they choose, or, in Rich Gibson’s words, “We want to be easy to see, but hard to catch.”
So some structural issues have been at least temporarily resolved. However, publication remains an issue. For example, leadership in editing the flagship of the Rouge Forum, its newspaper [ http://www.rougeforum.org], shifted from founding professors to K12 teachers, Greg Queen and Amber Goslee, a significant step forward. But the two unpaid volunteers, working full time jobs, without any external funding, were unable to carry the newspaper beyond a remarkable four year stint. Members at the 2007 Detroit conference chose to continue the online publication of the Rouge Forum News, but to shift many articles to Substance News, published from Chicago by test-resister George Schmidt and his wife, Sharon.
The Rouge Forum has always been action-oriented, and has taken the lead in inspiring job actions, student walkouts against the Big Tests and war, influenced other labor groups like the California Grocery strikers in 2004 through research, publications, and solidarity work. The organization has not, however, been able to successfully conduct the hoped-for kinds of freedom schooling that might help transcend resistance out of necessity, to revolutionary conscious action. Gibson noted that as a serious weakness in the Detroit 2007 conference (Emery, 2006).
Rouge Forum leaders have conducted study groups, usually focused on the processes of dialectical materialism, the philosophical/practical foundation of marxism, and led informal social film discussion groups, sometimes centered on more political films like, “Sir No Sir,” on GI resistance during the Vietnam wars, or the quasi-fictional “Blue Collar,” but both the social and political groups have not been able to consistently sustain themselves over the years, with some groups dissolving, others witnessing a passing parade of participants.
Over the course of about four years, members of the Rouge Forum, Whole Schooling Consortium, and Whole Language Umbrella continued a friendly and productive association based on their clear commonalities. However, direct organizational ties were never firm and it is uncertain whether or not any of the organizations could withstand what could be very severe political repression in the not too distant future.
Significantly, while the Rouge Forum fought racism and sexism perhaps harder than any other North American education-based group, it remains that the Rouge Forum has not fully bridged the race and sex/gender gaps that form the population the Rouge Forum draws from. Amber Goslee, the Rouge Forum webmaster, noted in the 2007 conference, that the organization would need to be transformed in practical ways, more inclusive, more dedicated to fighting internal forms of these Achilles’ heel, if it would hope to have a lasting impact.
The Rouge Forum focused much of its work on grassroots organizing rooted in establishing close personal ties, friendships, with people. Working within as well as on the margins of various organizations we have had a number of successes. What follows is a brief description of many of the organizing strategies and tactics we have found useful.
Meetings, interactive conferences and teach_ins—The Rouge Forum along with members of Whole Schooling have made presentations at a variety of professional organizations including the American Educational Research Association, National Council for the Social Studies, The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH), the International Social Studies Conference, Michigan Council for the Social Studies, and the Socialist Scholars Conference and have held a number of meetings and interactive conferences in Detroit, Albany, Binghamton, Rochester, Orlando, Calgary and Louisville, Kentucky. The united groups have also sponsored exhibitor booths at many of these conferences. Articles about the Whole Schooling Consortium and Rouge Forum have appeared in Theory and Research in Social Education, Wisconsin School Board Journal, Substance, Counterpunch, the Nation, and Z Magazine among others.
England’s Dave Hill, Susan Ohanian, Patrick Shannon, Ross, Vinson, Gibson, Peterson, and many other Rouge Forum members have published extensively, consistently pointing to the system of capital as the key problem in schools, and out. The sterling academic reputation won by, for example, E. Wayne Ross (former editor of the social studies journal, Theory and Research in Social Education and the editor of a series of books on public education) coupled with his activist stance have made it possible to inspire a new, younger generation of scholars and graduate students who appear poised to take leadership, not only in their own academic fields, but in the Rouge Forum. Like them, younger k12 teachers now move into leadership roles of the group, as older members seem willing to step aside.
Rouge Forum members also joined, and assumed leadership in, community coalitions organized against the war, usually coalitions involving labor, left vanguardists, grassroots collectives, and religious groups aimed at ending the war, but frequently involved in school organizing as well, such as the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice. As in other coalitions, Rouge Forum members assisted in developing strategies and tactics drawn from a careful analysis of the specific community linked to the workings of capital, identifying choke points similar to the Big Tests, as in the road to the airport in tourism-base San Diego (Gibson, 2007a).
In 2006 and 2007, four of our younger Rouge Forum members traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, the location of a mass community uprising, sometimes called the Oaxaca Commune, initiated by educators. There they joined in the daily demonstrations against the regime which would cut off all of the Commune’s hard-won communications systems, like the radio station, helped set up and defend barricades against troops, and engaged in the daily struggles about the goals and tactics of the movement. From their reports, Rouge Forum members published material in English in the US, urging support from school workers in solidarity with the direct action efforts of the Oaxacans, and warning them of the Trojan Horse union leaders who planned to arrive from the U.S., a plan that was halted when Oaxacans became aware of the nature of the visits (Gibson, 2007b).
Rouge Forum members joined the editorial board of the journals, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Critical Education Policy Studies (U.K.), thus creating new and respectable venues for newer radical scholars to find places for publication, voice and recognition. At the other end of the spectrum, some Rouge Forum members found it quite productive to participate in the many online educator discussion groups, like the California Resisters moderated by life-long education activist Susan Harmon, where, over time, distant friendships were built which became close ties when job and community actions began.
In cooperation with the Whole Schooling Consortium and the Whole Language Umbrella, we co_sponsored the 2000 International Education Summit for a Democratic Society. It convened progressive educators, teachers, parents, and community members locally and throughout the country. The Summit was an event designed to promote learning and skill development, dialogue, connecting urban, rural, and suburban schools, and organizing to strengthen progressive education for an inclusive and democratic society. It linked art, music, drama, celebrations with ideas, organizing, relationship building. It was an interactive, action_oriented conference propelled by the belief that learning is both personal and social and that classrooms and other educational settings must be learning communities.
At times our sessions in professional conferences are disrupted by standardistos (e.g., test_pushers and advocates of the standardization and state regulation of knowledge). For example, at the 2000 NCSS convention in San Antonio, the audience shouted down a state education bureaucrat who repeatedly disrupted a workshop on resisting high_stakes tests. On the other hand, we identify education bureaucrats as fair targets and distributed “MEAP SCHMEAP BINGO” to incoming participants at Michigan Council for the Social Studies convention, sessions led by bureaucrats of the Education or Treasury Department—Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) is Michigan’s high_stakes test, which is administered by the state Treasury Department–a good humored guerilla theater attack that has repeatedly drawn support from participants forced to attend “professional development,” sessions.
Media—We use the complete range of media opportunities, from traditional, “low_tech/high_touch” approaches such as leafleting to use of cyberspace. Many opportunities are available to distribute leaflets and broadsides. (Past broadsides and other flyers are available on the Rouge Forum web site.)
At conferences, we place flyers throughout the conference center, and we distribute flyers at social justice events, grocery stores, universities and schools. Flyers used to develop connections with potential allies and provide an entre for face_to_face discussion. In the planning of the many public activities like the demonstrations and teach_ins, we make contacts to local media and subsequently see our events reported through them, sometimes with a positive report, and sometimes not.
Many members also write op_ed articles or letters to the editor in local papers. We participate in radio and television interviews, usually focusing on the social context of educational reform, standards_based education and high_stakes testing, which often result from press coverage of our meetings or opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines.
Our flyers also serve as introductory notes and reminders when Rouge Forum members walk door to door in communities asking, for example, “what would a great school look like, what does your school look like, and what is between one and the other?”
The website—http://www.RougeForum.org— not only informs folks of future Rouge Forum events but provides thousands of connections to information that facilitates a theoretical and practical understanding to achieve a more equal and democratic world. Beyond the baseline subscribers, nearly 200,000 people visited the Rouge Forum web page in 2002, and, in early 2003, 4,000 people visited the web page each week. By 2007, about 32,000 people a month visited the web site, from all over the world, enough visitors to shut down the site toward the end of each month. The Rouge Forum News is archived on the Rouge Forum web site.
Demonstrations and other “events”—The Rouge Forum has sponsored or co_sponsored numerous demonstrations in New York, Michigan, and California. With the Whole Schooling Consortium in Michigan, we sponsored rallies to “SUPPORT GOOD TEACHING, GET RID OF THE MEAP.” Our goals were to provide a place where people could comfortably take a public stand and to gain additional people with whom we could work. We had an "open mike" session and more than a dozen people spoke for 2 to 3 minutes each about their reasons for opposing high stakes testing, specifically the MEAP. Following the march we met for refreshments and talk and made plans for continuing our work to educate others about high_stakes testing and what they can do about it.
We participate in community debates. In one such debate, the leader of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of merit awards (the department responsible for distributing the bribes that the State of Michigan pays out to primarily suburbanites for “passing” the state tests) presented opposing viewpoints, supporting standards_based education and high_stakes testing.
Early on we worked collaboratively with some Michigan state legislators to challenge other policy makers to take the tests that they expect students to take. While most of the legislators were no_shows and we encouraged parents, teachers and students to follow the example set by policy makers by boycotting the tests. Some Rouge Forum members feared that by bringing attention to the tests, it would legitimize them. We found two solutions to the problem. First, a participant was immediately handed a form to sign that would opt him/herself out of the tests. Secondly, when policy_makers were finished taking the tests, their scores were determined by the average income level of the district they represent. The best predictor of a school district's test scores is the average income of the parents. However, many Rouge Forum leaders felt strongly that electoral work is merely a direct route into deepened alienation, a process that looks for external saviors, when, “nobody is going to save us but us.” That debate continues.
Working inside other organizations—During professional conferences in organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies and their state affiliates, the Rouge Forum has sponsored booths that provide literature and space for conversation around important education and social justice issues. These spaces are useful places to meet people and have lengthy one_to_one chats with rank_and_file teachers as well as students. Our coffee maker lends a living room atmosphere to the conversations. In the evenings, we frequently dine with new friends and Rouge Forum members.
Members of the Rouge Forum brought two key resolutions to the National Council for the Social Studies conference in San Antonio on November 18, 2000. The two resolutions, reproduced in the Appendices E and F, address open access and free tuition to universities, and opposition to high_stakes tests. The motions were first presented to the members of the College and University Faculty Association (CUFA), composed of professors, the evening before the House of Delegates meeting of NCSS.
The motion on Open Access was defeated, about two_to_one, due at least in part to the opposition of multi_culturalist poverty hustlers and nationalists like counterfeit scholar Professor James Banks, who spoke fervently, worrying that free tuition might cut professors’ salaries. The resolution opposing High_Stakes Tests, however, passed unanimously, a surprise for even the most optimistic of Rouge Forum members. The language of the CUFA resolution in opposition to high_stakes exams is the sharpest to come out of any of the professional organizations or the two education_worker unions. The NCSS House of Delegates voted down CUFA’s high_Stakes resolution, after very brief debate during which the members were warned that if the high_stakes were abolished, social studies teachers might lose their jobs. Meanwhile, related groups that oppose high_stakes exams began to circulate the resolution around the US on email listservs, urging contact people to bring the proposal to union locals, PTA groups, and administrator organizations. The resolutions influenced other professional groups that have developed statements on the deleterious effects of high_stakes testing (e.g., American Evaluation Association).
In 2004 and 2006, the Rouge Forum brought resolutions to NCSS that can be summed up by, “The US should get out of Iraq now.” While CUFA passed these motions overwhelmingly, the members also virtually refused to discuss them and, in 2006, followed the CUFA chairperson’s advice that, “we should pass this quickly and get on to the hors dwarves.”
The Rouge Forum exists, therefore, because rank and file intellectuals and activists consistently made connections, not only between capitalism, imperialism, war, and the regimentation of schooling, but between one another, persevering over years of practical resistance to authoritarian intrusions into their lives, and intellectual explorations into the struggle to not merely resist exploitation and alienation, but to transform it, now and in the future. The close personal ties, humility, dedication to equality, risk-taking, sacrifice for the common good, internationalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, commitment to the celebration of aesthetics and creativity (fun), all forge an ethic that assisted Rouge Forum members to keep their ideals and stay afloat in a world that promotes a war of all on all.
Today’s educational practices are guided by educational policies, such as No Child Left Behind Act, that reflect the same obstacles to achieving education for democracy and social justice as identified by John Dewey early in 20th century—namely the powerful alliance of class privilege with philosophies of education that sharply divide mind and body, theory and practice, culture and utility: unacceptable disconnections.
There is no “one best system” for organizing people to act for positive change, such as creating schools and universities where pedagogy is democratic, anti_racist, anti_sexist, and empowering. The Rouge Forum is one among many groups of committed activists who are contributing to the construction of a K_16 movement for progressive change in education and society. It is our hope that by sharing our experiences in building a grassroots organization that our comrades in this struggle might learn something that advances the movement as a whole and that we might, in turn, learn from them.
Amrein, A. L. & Berliner, D.C. (2002, March 28). High_stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved April 29, 2003 from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/.
Berliner, D., & Biddle, B. (1996). The manufactured crisis. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
Dewey, J. (1966) Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.
Fleury, S. C. (1998, November). A Sunday afternoon in the House of Delegates. Paper presented at the annual meeting of College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies as part of the symposium, Anaheim.
Freire, P. (2000) . Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Hursh, D. W. (1998, November). The First Amendment and free speech at the National Council for the Social Studies: The arrest and trials of leafleteer Sam Diener. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies, Anaheim.
Hill, D., McLaren, P., Cole, M., & Rikowski, G. (Eds.). (2002). Marxism against postmodernism in educational theory. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Ladson_Billings, G. (1998). Letters. Theory and Research in Social Education, 26 (1), 6_8
Marciano, J. (1997). Civic illiteracy and education: The battle for the hearts and minds of American youth. New York: Peter Lang.
Marx, K. (1985). Capital, Volume I. New York. International Publications.
McLaren, P. (2000). Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the pedagogy of revolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
More on CUFA's resolution to boycott the NCSS California meeting. (1997, Spring). CUFA News, p. 4_5.
Ross, E. W. (1997). A lesson in democracy? CUFA, Proposition 187, and the Boycott of California. Theory and Research in Social Education, 25(3), 256_258, 390_393.
Ross, E. W. (1998). Democracy and disagreements: Some things to do on our way to Anaheim. Theory and Research in Social Education, 26 (1), 9_11.
Vinson, K. E., & Ross, E. W. (2006). Image and education: Teaching in the face of the new disciplinarity. New York: Peter Lang.
Vinson, K. D., & Ross, E. W. (2001, March). What can we know and when can we know it? Z Magazine, 14(3), 34_38.
Young, I. M. (1992). Five faces of oppression, In T. E. Wartenburg (Ed.), Rethinking power (pp. 174_195). Albany: State University of New York Press.
1 The basis of this section is David Hursh’s detailed account of Sam Diener’s arrest in “The First Amendment and free speech at the National Council for the Social Studies: The arrest and trials of leafleteer Sam Diener,” and Stephen C. Fleury’s “A Sunday Afternoon in the House of Delegates.” Both papers were presented to the College and University Faculty Assembly of the National Council for the Social Studies as part of the symposium “The journey from Phoenix to Anaheim: Institutional identities and political engagements of CUFA and NCSS, 1994_1998,” Anaheim, California, November 19, 1998.
2 The College and University Faculty Assembly (CUFA) is an "associated group" of National Council for the Social Studies and operates as an autonomous organization within the larger structure of NCSS.
3 The CUFA Resolution on Proposition 187 was written and sponsored by Perry Marker, Stephen C. Fleury, and E. Wayne Ross. The text of the resolution can be found in Ross (1997).
4 This section draws on Rich Gibson’s “Outfoxing the Destruction of Reason and the Introduction,” which appeared in Theory and Research in Social Education, Spring 2001 from a special issue of Cultural Logic, 4(1), http://www.eserver.org/clogic
5 This section draws from Rich Gibson’s “Outfoxing the Destruction of Reason.”
6 This section is draws from E. Wayne Ross and Kevin Vinson’s What We Can Know and When We Can Know It: Education Reform, Testing and the Standardization Craze, Z Magazine, March 2001.
7 This section is draws on “Whole Schooling: Implementing progressive school reform” in The Social Studies Curriculum, E. W. Ross (Ed.), Albany: NY: State University of New York Press, 2001.
Rich Gibson is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education at San Diego State University and a co_founder of the Rouge Forum. He is the author of How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach, now available free online from Heinneman, and co-editor, with Wayne Ross, of Neo Liberalism and Educational Reform, from Hampton Press. His, Education, Labor, and Social Change is due in 2008. His email address is email@example.com
Greg Queen teaches social studies to high school students in Warren, Michigan. He was an active member in the production of the Rouge Forum newspaper and plays a central role in the Rouge Forum Conference organizing. He has made presentations at local, state and national conferences on high_stakes testing and the role of schools in a capitalist society.
E. Wayne Ross is Professor of Education at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He is a co_founder of the Rouge Forum and a general editor of Workplace and Cultural Logic. He is the author of, among others, The Social Studies Curriculum; Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities from SUNY press, and Race, Ethnicity, and Education from Praeger Press.
Kevin D. Vinson is Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Arizona and co_author, with E. Wayne Ross, of Image and Education: Teaching in the Face of the New Disciplinarity, from Peter Lang.