Shut them Down, Then Open Them Up? The San Diego School Boycott

Dear Friends, 

In some  cases, schools shut down by civil strife are superior to open
schools. This was easily seen as true in South Africa during the apartheid
period, in the US south during the civil rights movement, etc. For schools
hit by long term boycotts in those areas, the freedom schools that were
established were vastly superior to the formal school system. I think there
is instructive wisdom in this history, especially in a country that offers
its children perpetual imperialist war and that seeks to use its segregated
militarized schools to promote witless and violent forms of nationalism.

This week in San Diego the parents at one north county elementary school
withdrew their children from the school in protest of the Superintendent's
lock-step "Blueprint," curriculum regulation, a genuinely fascist plan that
eliminates nearly all instruction in areas other than reading (Open Court)
and math, in order to drive up test scores--a project that has mostly
failed. The superintendent is the former INS attorney for the area, Alan
Bersin, who is responsible for the creation of Operation Gatekeeper, the
strict border enforcement and high walls that causes dozens if not hundreds
of people to die in the desert each year. His life's work has been to use
violence, shielded by the law and respectability, to divide people by
class, race, and nation. His Blueprint serves blue bloods. 

Bersin's local on-site procurer for the Blueprint is an otherwise
inconsequential former educator, Tony Alvarado, who was driven out of New
York City for his corrupt work in the schools there. Akvarado is earning in
the high-six figures in San Diego to serve as Bersin's education expert.
The San Diego district is flooded with "trainers" from New York, claiming
they made a miracle there that can be duplicated here.  Here is an
interview I did with Alvarado last year.

Mira Mesa, the area of the boycott, mostly blacked out in the local press,
is in a relatively wealthy section of a county which itself is wealthy. The
average house, which only about 30 % of the people can afford, costs nearly
$350,000. The Mira Mesa parents, and some teachers on the side, argued that
the Blueprint is making their kids dumber. The boycott is a deliberate
attack on the school's funding--all of the absences are unexcused-- at a
cost of about 150 dollars per child. The boycotters were also obviously
trying to influence a hot school board election coming up soon, an election
in which all the candidates say they support the Blueprint to one degree or
another, but some want to tweak it more than others. 

Lajolla, a more wealthy area of San Diego, succeeded in opting its children
out of the Blueprint last year, by threatening to turn their entire area
into a charter school. Bersin made a deal, in order to keep the Lajolla
test scores in his count. So, rather than seeing that real solidarity and
direct action is the best remedy for the 

There is, clearly, an element of elitism and racism in all of this, a
dangerous element. If the Blueprint makes Lajolla kids dumb and denies them
a decent education, as it does, then that is also true in the entire
county, for rich and poor, in San Diego's lingo, south of the 8 as well as
north. An injury to one really does go before an injury to all. If middle
class people fail to directly ally with working class parents and kids,
that action will eventually rebound against all of them. 

Even so, Michigan's wealthy districts initiated the battles against the
state test, the MEAP, boycotting the test in mass, sometimes at 95 percent.
Later on, poorer districts followed their lead, and at one point Detroit
teachers shut down the entire district in an illegal wildcat, against the
Governor, against their racketeer union, and against one of the toughest
anti-strike laws in the country. For the most part, they won the strike and
no one was disciplined. Today, the mass of Michigan metro-Detroit citizens
reject the MEAP as a valid tool, and with some more work from the
resistance, there is a good chance it will be demolished.

We should remember, too, the exemplary action of Oakland students who shut
down their schools under the slogan, "Schools Not Jails," Mexico's recent
school sit-down strikes, and the massive wildcat teacher strikes in Canada.

These direct actions on the job, related to students distributing flyers
showing others how to opt out of tests, or teachers refusing to administer
them, or university profs refusing to align their syllabi with high-stakes
exams, these actions which demonstrate real power, are worth ten thousand
teacher activists working for Gray Davis, lobbying in the capital,
testifying to official commissions, trailing after corrupt legislators, or
trying to write better, more gentle, tests. These actions also take some

Teachers and students create value collectively on the job. At issue is who
is going to control the process and product of that creation. The answer to
that is to be found by collective action at work and in the nearby

In many cases today, closed schools are superior to open schools, when that
closing is caused by civil strife, and matched by some form of outside
schooling. The Mira Mesa kids had a great lesson. 

As for me, I am going to go rent "Rock and Roll High School" (also in
memory of the Ramones) and toast the closing scene.

Best r


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