Photo: Barbara Miner
Milwaukee activists have organized the largest coalition on education issues since the desegregation struggles of the late 1970s: the Milwaukee Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover. The coalition is a response to the August 2009 announcement by Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor James Doyle and Milwaukee’s Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett that they would push to transfer control of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) from the elected nine-person school board to the mayor. The governor claimed that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had assured him that, if that change was made, Race to the Top monies would be forthcoming to Wisconsin. Significant sectors of the area’s business community, many of whom have been ardent privatization and voucher advocates, lined up to support the takeover proposal.
Convened by members of the Educators’ Network for Social Justice and the NAACP, the Milwaukee Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover has 28 organizational members, including the teacher unions (both AFT and NEA affiliates), SEIU, religious organizations, the ACLU, Rethinking Schools, Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee 9to5, and numerous other civil rights, community, and parent groups. They have organized rallies and press conferences, picketed at legislator’s homes and city hall, distributed thousands of flyers, and appeared on local radio shows.
The significance of the Milwaukee struggle goes far beyond the city limits. Duncan has made mayoral control of urban school systems a cornerstone of his educational agenda. Critics see his strategy as an attack on teachers unions and community control, as well as a major step towards the privatization of public schools. If the Milwaukee coalition succeeds in stopping the mayoral takeover, it will be a major victory for public control of public education.
The coalition and supporters like Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore convinced the legislature not to act on the governor’s proposal during its regular fall session. The governor is expected to either call a special session of the legislature in December or push his plan when the regular session starts again in January.
Rethinking Schools Writer Detained
On July 31, three U.S. hikers—Sarah Shourd, her boyfriend Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal—were detained by Iranian authorities after they reportedly wandered into Iran by accident from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Sarah Shourd had been working as a teacher with Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria, and was writing an article for Rethinking Schools. In the draft of her article, Shourd gives a flavor of her work:
I had hopes that I could use my experience as an activist and an English teacher to do something useful, but I had only vague notions of what that might be. The truth is I had been part of the U.S. antiwar movement for five years and I was plumb out of ideas on how to resuscitate it. I needed a fresh perspective and wanted to learn Arabic, so I saved a little money and boarded a plane to Syria. . . . A month after I arrived in Damascus, I heard about a small school called the Iraqi Student Project and decided to look into it. My students board a mini-bus twice a week and snake up steep, narrow streets to arrive at my modest hillside apartment. We sip tea, crack jokes, and dutifully study for the TOEFL English-language exam. . . . I aspire to do more than simply prepare them academically. I want to create a classroom environment that serves to nurture and strengthen their burgeoning identities.
Sarah, Shane, and Josh had consular access through the Swiss embassy in Tehran for the first time on Sept. 29. They are believed to be in good shape, but have not had any contact with their families. It remains unclear when they might be released. Their families and friends have set up a website at www.freethehikers.org, which includes more information about Sarah, Shane, and Josh as well as a petition for their release.
Rethinking Schools hopes that the Iranian authorities will release Sarah and the other hikers as soon as possible, so they can continue their work for peace and social justice.