By Anthony Cody.
Short, punchy films with a message have become one of the most powerful ways the movement to resist high stakes tests has spread the word. You might have seen parents from New York speaking from the heart about their experience, about what has driven them to resist and opt out of these tests. Some of them have been shared and viewed thousands of times.
It is not easy to create a video that spreads like wildfire across social media. The message must be clear, the voice authentic, the speaker eloquent. Viewers have to not only watch it, but be motivated to share. For these reasons, creating a successful video of this sort is like catching lightning in a jar. The Network for Public Education has a project underway that hopes to do just that.
Two weeks ago, several hundred people spent part of their Sunday in a warehouse in the Gowanus district of Brooklyn, participating in the first phase of an experiment in social media. The guiding director of the project was Michael Elliot, who has a track record of success in creating such videos. This time, the stakes were raised, the goal set a bit higher. Elliot is working to create a whole series of videos, to be released in the coming year, featuring some of the movement’s most powerful voices. Kemala Karmen, who also has a background in documentary film, worked alongside Elliot to organize the project, prepare the speakers, and recruit the audience. Elliot and Karmen are both parents of public school students. Volunteers from the New York City Opt Out movement helped with critical tasks on the day of the shoot.
On a somewhat grimy Brooklyn street, a warehouse door opened onto a space where folding tables were set up with snacks and photo release forms. The volunteer audience filed in and was seated in a makeshift theater, with a curtained set, and carefully lit stage. Three shifts would come and go, listening to short talks delivered by people like community organizer Jitu Brown. Brotha Jitu talked about the successful fight to keep Chicago’s Dyett High school open, and challenged the audience to recognize the unequal education offered to students of color. Living legend Diane Ravitch described the many ways privatizers, led by Betsy DeVos, are working to turn education into a marketplace with winners and losers. Seattle’s Jesse Hagopian spoke of the urgent need to reach students with meaningful lessons – project-based learning and Ethnic Studies. Texan John Kuhn spoke about the injustice of holding teachers alone accountable for student outcomes.
We also heard from a student, Kymberly Walcott, who spoke about the closing of her high school, Jamaica High, and how it felt to have the school she loved labeled a failure. Parent Johanna Garcia spoke in English and Spanish about the ways schools serving poor students are underfunded and set up to fail, and how tests work to intensify rather than correct inequities. Linda Lyon, the president-ELECT of the school board association in Arizona talked about the mirage of privatization. And Jeannette Deuterman spoke of the heart-wrenching impact high-stakes tests have had on children in her community.
Each speaker drew from their own experience to tell a story about public education. There was no misty nostalgia or dreamy mythology of public schools of the past. Their stories painted a portrait of what is now being done to unwind our society’s aspiration of a quality education for all.
Audience members were asked to help share the videos once they are edited and released. The films will be shared over the next year – released one or two at a time, for maximum impact. This is the strategy of a grassroots campaign with minimal financial resources.
It has been seven years since the airwaves were flooded with a corporate reform message, sponsored by the Gates Foundation and other corporate philanthropies. We had NBC’s Education Nation, the pseudo-documentary Waiting for Superman. In the years since, a steady push of sponsored media stories carrying the message that our public schools are broken, and we must expand charter schools in order to give parents the “choice” of a parallel system of “public” schools.
Those of us who resist this have few resources to spread our message. The Network for Public Education cannot underwrite journalism that will cover our side of the story. We can create documentaries, but the Gates Foundation will not give us a million dollars to promote them, like they did for Waiting For Superman. We depend on one another, on our willingness to spread the word through social media.
The Network for Public Education is building a special informal social media team to help share these films, as well as our upcoming reports on student privacy, charter schools and online learning. If you sign up for this team, you will get special updates as the films are edited – and most importantly, when they are released, you will be asked to help share them. Please go to this form to sign up for this team. We will ask you to post to Facebook, share on Twitter, or email links to your friends, asking them to share even further. In this way, we can elevate the voices of the parents, students and activists in these films, and spread important reports. We can get the kind of support the billionaire’s money cannot buy – that which comes from our hearts.