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Two Quick Thoughts on the SOS March

I wasn’t able to attend the Save Our Schools rally in DC last Saturday, and I had nothing to do with planning it, so I don’t have much credibility to criticize. But, after reading some of the news coverage and commentary, I do have a couple of observations to add to the stream.

One has to do with Matt Damon’s five minute speech linked to in many of the reports. Great talk. He said many of the things about teachers and public education that the audience wanted to hear.  However, many educators (myself included) have been very critical of the celebrities advocating on behalf of Race to the Top, charter schools, vouchers, and other “reform” efforts.

Having a high profile actor with news cameras in tow speak to the issues is nice but it’s not a good idea to have celebrities become spokespeople for the push back against all the crap being inflicted on public education and educators these days. The effort needs a wide variety of authentic voices, especially parents and kids.

Then there’s the matter of what happens now? What is done with the attention (how ever large or small) that came from having a few thousand teachers and some high profile speakers marching in front of the White House on a hot summer afternoon?

The leaders of the Save Our Schools event (and I’m not especially fond of the SOS connotation…) are considering what happens next but I’m afraid that altering the path that the school “reform” movement is currently on will take much more than some Washington marches and intelligent speeches, not to mention a far larger body of participants than just teachers.

Thoughts of Sanity

This will be a long rambling collection of observations about the Rally to Restore Sanity from this past weekend. If anyone finds a point to it, please let me know.

Let’s face it, I’m not a “rally” kind of person – always hated stadium concerts and festival seating – but I’m a big fan of the Daily Show (I like Colbert in small doses) so I decided to venture down to the mall last Saturday to see what was happening.

My first clue that this was going to be huge were the long lines waiting to get Metro passes at the end-of-the-line station near our house (clearly lots of first-time and infrequent riders).  And the cars were jammed way beyond what you’d find on a normal rush hour.

One report said that 215,000 came to the show where the organizers were expecting 60,000. I don’t trust the people who do these estimates but it was pretty clear from the ground that somebody didn’t order enough jumbotrons and speakers.

I didn’t arrive at the mall until around the very sane hour of 10 (the show started at noon) so I never got close enough to see what was going on on the stage and couldn’t really hear much.

But I didn’t expect to either. The DVR was set to record the show (and it was a good one) and mostly I was curious as to who would attend and what kind of side shows would they create.

In the small sampling I met along the way, many came from outside the area – Florida, California, Wisconsin, Arizona – and some from way outside the area like the family on the train who flew in from London and planned their vacation around attending this event.

Unlike many of the Mall events I’ve seen on TV, this crowd seemed to be there for a party, some trying out their Halloween costumes a day early and plenty of signs more reflecting an ambition to write for the Daily Show than any particular agenda (one collection here, another here).

So did this expensive (I hope Viacom execs got their money’s worth of publicity) music and comedy concert mean anything more than that?

I have no clue. Stewart and Colbert in a press conference following the show seemed pleased to have put on a good show but were not open to ascribing a higher political or social purpose to the whole thing. Which is probably the right assessment.

For me, the experience certainly wasn’t life changing. But it was the opportunity to spend a few hours with a couple hundred thousand very sane fellow fans of the Daily Show and Colbert packed into a few blocks of the DC mall on a nice, sunny fall Saturday afternoon, and that was enough.

If you’re interested, a few of my pictures from the proceedings are here (with more coming soon).

Reform? What Reform?

The headline on the front page of the Wednesday Post reads “Rhee to resign as schools chancellor”.

Ok, not unexpected.

Below that is this subheader

D.C. official’s departure leaves questions about future of reform

I have a question: What during her three year tenure as head of the DC school system qualified as “reform”?

Certainly she upset the teachers’ union by trying to change the structure by which their members would be paid and firing several hundred of them.

Rhee pissed off more than few neighborhoods by closing buildings and replacing beloved principals, which in turn rattled members of the DC council who heard from their constituents.

And, of course, student achievement (aka test scores) rose during her time in charge.  Primarily due to a greater emphasis on preparing kids to take the exams.

But does any of that qualify as “reform”?

If guess if the Post says it does, it must be so.

The Crime of Photography

In this morning’s Post, more examples of the conflict between photographers and security people who don’t understand that yes, they can take pictures here.

The situation is especially bad here in the DC area where we have a higher than average number of the paranoid who also don’t know what they’re talking about.

However, one specific sentence in the story pretty much says it all.

Photographers say police need to be told explicitly not to prohibit photography, because officers often don’t respond well to impromptu citizen lectures on constitutional law.

Ain’t that the truth!

Hypocrisy Overload

Washington DC is commonly used as a metaphorical punching bag by a wide variety of critics, both in and out of politics, and that’s to be expected considering this is the national capital.

But once in a while there comes instances of massive hypocrisy spouted by critics that sound like something straight out of The Onion.

For example, this past Saturday a crowd of people (one much smaller than claimed by supporters) staged a protest on the mall in front of the Capitol.

Nothing unusual. The city gets dozens of manufactured events every year, and those of us who live in the DC area always know to check the papers to see what kind of mess they plan to make of travel in and out of the city.

This particular group was rallying against “big government”, “government spending”, “excessive taxation”, and an assortment of other whines that were in their script.

However, it seems one of their pet congress critters is unhappy with Metro, our local transportation system, saying they didn’t provide enough subway cars to get everyone to the demonstration on time.

A PUBLIC transportation system, paid for by an inadequate amount of TAXES, run by the GOVERNMENT didn’t live up to his high expectations.

Let’s face it, Metro is far from perfect, and the system has been deteriorating lately due to lack of support.

But overall they do a good job of not only transporting hundreds of thousands of locals every week but also millions of tourists who visit every year. And by all reports, ridership last Saturday was not much higher than most weekends this time of year.

So, if these people who hate government programs and their government-paid representative don’t like the public transportation system around here, and don’t like waiting on the platform like the rest of us, maybe they should either walk or take a cab.

Oh, yeah. That same fine representative, who is now demanding a GOVERNMENT investigation of Metro, thought that using private transit was a bad thing.

And then there’s another congress critter I ran across on some program who regurgitated what he called “the old line” about Washington being “100 square miles surrounded by reality”.

Obviously this clueless character has never made the very short trip from his cozy House chambers to Southeast DC. Or many parts of Northeast. Both well inside his 100 square miles.

Plenty of stark reality going on in those neighborhoods, reality that has NO representation in Congress and is largely ignored by most of the idiots like him working inside that irony-free zone of hypocrisy perched on Capitol Hill.

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