|Shut them Down, Then Open Them Up? The San Diego School
In some cases, schools shut down by civil strife are superior
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
hit by long term boycotts in those areas, the freedom schools that
established were vastly superior to the formal school system. I think
is instructive wisdom in this history, especially in a country that
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
eliminates nearly all instruction in areas other than reading (Open
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,
Bersin, who is responsible for the creation of Operation Gatekeeper,
strict border enforcement and high walls that causes dozens if not
of people to die in the desert each year. His life's work has been
violence, shielded by the law and respectability, to divide people
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
York City for his corrupt work in the schools there. Akvarado is earning
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
interview I did with Alvarado last year.
Mira Mesa, the area of the boycott, mostly blacked out in the local
is in a relatively wealthy section of a county which itself is wealthy.
average house, which only about 30 % of the people can afford, costs
$350,000. The Mira Mesa parents, and some teachers on the side, argued
the Blueprint is making their kids dumber. The boycott is a deliberate
attack on the school's funding--all of the absences are unexcused--
cost of about 150 dollars per child. The boycotters were also obviously
trying to influence a hot school board election coming up soon, an
in which all the candidates say they support the Blueprint to one degree
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
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
direct action is the best remedy for the
There is, clearly, an element of elitism and racism in all of this,
dangerous element. If the Blueprint makes Lajolla kids dumb and denies
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
north. An injury to one really does go before an injury to all. If
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
state test, the MEAP, boycotting the test in mass, sometimes at 95
Later on, poorer districts followed their lead, and at one point Detroit
teachers shut down the entire district in an illegal wildcat, against
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
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
down their schools under the slogan, "Schools Not Jails," Mexico's
school sit-down strikes, and the massive wildcat teacher strikes in
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,
trying to write better, more gentle, tests. These actions also take
Teachers and students create value collectively on the job. At issue
is going to control the process and product of that creation. The answer
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
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.