Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
December 9, 2014
Last week community activists, students, and teachers reacted to the outrageous decision by Eastern Michigan University to continue its relations with the disgraced Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). The EAA has been controversial since its inception. It has proved to be detrimental to children, corrupt, unaccountable to the public, and irresponsible in its use of public funds.
As the Board of Regents voted 6-2 to continue the relationship with the EAA, people shouted, “Shame on you!” and staged a die-in. Many chanted, “The EAA is killing us.” Others shouted the EAA is “racist” and “nothing but a lynching.”
There is a lot of truth in these reactions.
The EAA began because Governor Snyder was not able to move quickly enough to privatize Detroit Public Schools under the Emergency Managers. Long standing community resistance, consistent organizing and criticism by the Detroit Elected School Board in Exile, and the work of committed parents, teachers, and students continue to slow the efforts to turn public education into another profit center.
The EAA was established to hasten the move to privatization and to intensify profits for corporate friends. It was also a convenient way to strip one of the most powerful unions in the city of many of its members.
This scheme of Governor Snyder is not supported by any credible educators and has specifically been denounced by scholars and researchers at the very institution that authorizes this travesty.
Critics at Eastern Michigan have been especially concerned that this whole enterprise is based on the appointments of one single person, Governor Snyder. In a petition asking to terminate their relationship with EAA, concerned teachers, researchers, faculty, alumni, and students said: “…the faculty find the undermining of democratic processes represented in the creation of a district outside the purview of public decision-making and oversight to be in direct conflict with this university’s mission and our legacy as a champion of public education. This violation of our principles is now beginning to affect our historically strong relationship with local schools.”
The EAA opened in 2012 with 15 Detroit schools and a promise to improve student learning. That has not happened. Instead, the dissatisfaction of parents and students has resulted in a mass exodus. Beginning with 10,000 students, it now has about 6,500. Its new administrator collects $325,000 a year for the effort.
Meanwhile, test scores are getting worse. Classes are crowded and instruction is tied to computer based learning. A controversial and unproven method of instruction, Detroit young people were used as test subjects to improve software.
At the beginning of this school year the Metro Times documented the deal between the EAA and a software company, Buzz. It is clear that the EAA used children to experiment with this software programs and used administrators to market it.
Karen Twomey, a member of the Ferndale board of education, said, “As a fellow educational institution, Eastern Michigan University has no business participating in any agreement that dissolves local control and unions for the sole goal of testing software for large-scale profit. We are supposed to serve and educate children, not profit off the most needing and vulnerable.”
As surely as a bullet from a policeman’s gun, the bodies, minds and souls of our children are under attack.
And as surely as people are gathering in the streets of Ferguson, Oakland, New York, LA, Boston, Detroit, and hundreds of places in between, communities are rallying for a different kind of education and a different kind of country.
Time and again, young people have stepped forward to generate imaginative solutions to problems that their elders have created. Ideas of place based education and community learning are flourishing. The EAA may have survived this vote, but it has no future in a country that is asking, “What is education for? What kind of people will we become?”