Attend a “Reforum:” Take the economic, educational bull by its horns

Mary Loftus Levine, Executive DirectorA recent cover of The New Yorker magazine used cartoon-like characters to spoof the Occupy Wall Street movement that has sprung up in Manhattan, Hartford, New Haven and across our nation. The real protesters are largely caring citizens who are fed up with an economic system that is unjust. In contrast, the cartoon characters are hell bent on protecting the status quo—a status quo that protects the wealthy and neglects the less advantaged.

The cartoon figures on the magazine cover depict wealthy men with monocles, who are smoking cigars and dressed in top hats and tails. They carry signs in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Their signs proclaim, “Keep Things Precisely as They Are” and “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

An individual doesn’t have to read The New Yorker to encounter people singing a similar happy song because life is just swell for them. They’ve got no reason to protest. They’ve got no feeling of discontent. If society is unjust, it’s of no matter to them; after all, they’re not on the receiving end of dwindling opportunity and downward mobility.

The middle class is in free fall, and few policymakers seem to be able to cut through the partisan stalemate to develop meaningful legislation. Our most vulnerable citizens— our disadvantaged children—continue to be left out in the economic cold, despite acknowledgements that our nation cannot afford to lose a generation of schoolchildren. Clearly, our nation needs to invest in world-class public education and create meaningful job opportunities.

But the stark reality is that our nation just keeps limping along without solid short-term solutions and visionary long-term plans. The voices of advocates and scholars alike get drowned out by the rantings of those who would prefer to make headlines, rather than advocate for longer term solutions.

News stories abound about the further erosion of what once made America a leader of nations—a strong, vibrant and growing middle class. A recent Stanford University study indicated that 65 percent of families in 1970 lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income. By 2007, only 44 percent did, and 30 percent of families (up from 15 percent in 1970) lived in areas of either affluence or poverty.

How does this shift affect educators? Our student population reflects the extremes created by this inequity in income distribution. And you, as educators, are part of the shrinking middle class, and feel the effects of economic pressure in your personal lives as well as your professional lives.

Hopefully, the Occupy Wall Street movement will have an impact from Wall Street to Main Street. Teachers’ classrooms are an “educational Main Street,” where resources are being depleted; hopes for a better tomorrow are being dashed; and fidelity to a well-rounded education has been lost in the debris of No Child Left Behind.

Despite the setbacks and obstacles, we must persevere. Governor Malloy promises to make this the legislative year of education when the Connecticut General Assembly session commences in February. We anxiously await the governor’s agenda and proposals. While we wait, the governor’s Education Cost Sharing Task Force (of which I am a member) continues to meet and listen to various special interest groups tell us what they want and don’t want. Unfortunately, few offer any real solutions to the pressing problem—inequality of financial resources and harshly uneven opportunities for economic and social advancement.

So, how do we proceed? I know most of you are too busy working each day—making life better for all children—to camp out or Occupy Wall Street. But together we can and must organize for our future and our students’ future. To that end, CEA is holding ten important meetings around Connecticut in January. The subject is a powerful mix of “reform in a forum setting”—thus our title “Reforums.”

Come, listen, share your ideas and voice your concerns. Hear what we can do— collectively—to make positive changes. As the old saying goes, it’s time to take the bull by its horns.

The status quo is cozy and comfortable for Wall Street brokers and others in our nation’s top income brackets. For educators, however, the status quo is hardly a viable option.

To register for an education reform, click here.