Thousands of parents, students, teachers and education advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., on July 30 to stand up for public education and send the message that the nation's public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. Speaker after speaker at the "Save Our Schools" march and rally called for less teacher bashing, less emphasis on standardized tests and more support for education reforms that work, such as smaller class sizes and improved teacher preparation.
"I'm marching for every child who deserves a well-prepared and effective teacher—and that's EVERY child," St. Paul (Minn.) Federation of Teachers president Mary Cathryn Ricker told the rally (pictured at right).
Education reform, Washington (D.C.) Teachers' Union president Nathan Saunders said, "must come from communities, parents, students and teachers. We must restore their influence over education policy and practice."
Linda Darling-Hammond, long a leading voice in the effort to reform schools, warned that teacher layoffs and cuts in school funding are widening the gap between those schools attended by students from well-to-do families and those schools that serve low-income kids and families. "We are here to protest policies that produce segregated and underfunded schools," said Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University. "We are here to challenge the aggressive neglect of our children."
Rally participants included members and leaders from several AFT affiliates, including the Albuquerque (N.M.) Teachers Federation, the Boston Teachers Union, the Chicago Teachers Union, the San Francisco Community College District Federation of Teachers (AFT Local 2121) and the St. Paul federation.
A large contingent of educators from Wisconsin, where public employees are fighting to restore the bargaining rights taken away from them earlier this year by Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature, also attended the rally. The Wisconsinites received loud applause and shouts of support when they were introduced.
One of the most popular spots on the hot and steamy afternoon was the WTU tent, where members of the AFT's Washington, D.C., affiliate handed out fans and bottles of cold water.
The rally's final speaker was actor Matt Damon, who took aim at standardized tests. "My teachers were empowered to teach me because their time was not taken up by silly test prep," recalled Damon, who attended public schools in Massachusetts.
As he gets older, the actor said, "I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up." (Watch video of Damon's remarks.)
Comedian and television host Jon Stewart sent video greetings to the crowd. [Roger Glass/photos by Milton Williams]
August 1, 2011