Yesterday 100,000 teachers and their supporters turned out in the cold and snow to protest against the effort by Wisconsin's governor to, among other things, take away their right to collectively bargain, and hundreds of thousands more gathered at their state capital buildings and other places across the country to show their solidarity.
The governor has privately stated that he intended to just "wait them out," expecting their outrage to consume itself, the winter weather to drive them indoors, the fear of reprisal to bow them down, but the opposite has happened. Protests that started with fewer than 10,000 people have now grown more than ten fold and continue to grow each day. Middle class people of all stripes, average Americans, parents, students, firefighters, and now even the police, have taken a stand with Wisconsin's teachers.
Yesterday, I wrote about teaching children how and when to be followers, and how if they learn to follow in the right way for the right reasons, they will possess the skills necessary to start their own movements. In the first few days of this movement in Wisconsin, the protesters were dismissed as a few angry, selfish teachers (lone nuts), but they persisted in doing this great thing, publicly, and simply enough that it was almost instructional. The first followers were crucial. Now clearly a tipping point as been reached and it has become a genuine movement one that has people from all sides rushing to join it. This is how great things get done in a democracy. Change and progress has never come from the people we call "leaders," because in a democracy we don't elect leaders, we elect representatives. And then they forget that the strength of our system is that the people lead, it is incumbent upon us to remind them.
In the past I've written about my frustration that our schools are increasingly being viewed as mere institutions of vocational training, instead of the incubators of citizenship that our founding fathers envisioned for public education. Whether you agree or disagree with the aims of this particular movement in Wisconsin, there can be no doubt that these teachers understand their role as citizens and are right now, through their actions, teaching their students how to be the kind of followers who make things happen in a democracy.
Sometimes I fear that with our current emphasis on standardized testing and the narrowing of our educational offerings to a core of math, literacy and a smattering of science, we will bring up a generation that is ignorant about its role in our grand experiment in self-governance. These are ideas and skills we risk losing when we cut the humanities, the social sciences, history, government, and civics education as we've done, making them, at best, little brothers, standing in the shadow of the all-important "job skills," much the way art, music, drama, and PE are pushed off into the dark corners, if not all the way out the door, today.
This is what we risk when we go down that narrow, narrow educational path: the knowledge that we are obliged to stand up for ourselves, and the skills necessary to do so collectively when those with more money or more guns try to wrest control of our government from us.
It is my hope that we are entering a period of increased citizen activism, lead as in Wisconsin by teachers and parents working together to leave our children a legacy of courageous grassroots democracy, one that swings the pendulum away from the society of "me" and back toward a society of "we."
(Note: If you're an email subscriber, I understand that many of you received your post yesterday with the video striped out of it. I don't know why that happened or if it will happen again today with the videos I've embedded in this post. If so, you may view the videos by going to the blog itself, where they appear to be running okay, or you can view them on YouTube. Click here for yesterday's video on starting a movement. Click here to view the first video in this post. Click here to view the second video in this post.)