The making of an “educational saboteur”



Through most of my life as a teacher, I have considered myself a builder. Not only have I worked hard to develop relationships with my students that last well beyond their time in my class, I have helped create three institutions at my University which hopefully have had a lasting impact on the school- a Department of African and African American Studies; an undergraduate and graduate Urban Studies Program; and the Bronx African American History Project. My students and former students have played a key role in building and sustaining all three of them.

However, in the last five years, I have had to switch gears and devote large amounts of time to protecting my profession and the institutions I have built, against powerful forces seeking to reduce teaching and learning to quantifiable “outcomes.” These forces, ironically taking their most powerful and insidious form in the administration of a President I helped to elect, have been implemented with a great fanfare, limitless financing, and virtuously unanimous media support, making anyone who dares resist them seem that they are atavistic, unpatriotic, and enemies of our national commitment to equity and economic dynamism.

Facing this juggernaut, has required me to remake myself as an Educational Subversive, a veritable “Dr No” who denounces, mocks, exposes and organizes resistance to policies that most people once regarded as both benign and inevitable.

Since commercial media from Fox to MSNBC were, and still are, in the pockets of the so called “Educational Reformers,” I found myself turning to social media to get my message across, creating a blog and a list-serve where teacher-friendly narratives could be aired and becoming adept at using Facebook and eventually twitter to create a language which would flip the script on Reform advocates, unearthing the racist consequences and crude profit taking that were provided cover by their idealistic, egalitarian rhetoric.

The latter effort even took me into the sphere of public performance, writing and performing hip hop jams such as this one which held up leading Reformers to ridicule and exposed the test policies which they were imposing on the public with virtual unanimity as little more than child abuse.

I had no illusion that what I was doing would have any short term impact on policy, but I was convinced that if I did it often enough, I could help break the “spell” that Reformers had over the media, politicians, and the general public, and would eventually help encourage grass roots resistance to the most damaging policies by teachers, parents and students.

What I have seen taking place in the last two years suggests that these efforts might not have been in vain. Between the Chicago Teachers strike, the teachers test revolt in Seattle, the civil rights mobilization to Washington to protests school closings, and the growth of parents groups around the country encouraging opting out of standardized tests, the Reformers can no longer pretend that their policies can be implemented painlessly and without resistance.

And that makes this Educational Saboteur feel very good.

Author Bio:Mark Naison teaches at Fordham University and blogs at With a Brooklyn Accent.