Schools LA students deserve

By Sarah Mason

ON JANUARY 24, some 100 educators, students, parents and activists met in South Central Los Angeles to discuss the fight for an alternative vision of public education.

Groups and individuals in attendance ranged from the UCLA Community School; the People's Education Movement; the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; the Coalition for Educational Justice; Progressive Educators for Action; college students from UCLA, Cal State LA and USC; parents and teachers from around LA; the Youth Justice Coalition; the Human Rights Committee; and dozens of others.

Taped to the library's walls were three large paper banners with colorfully designed question scrawled across the top. Participants were encouraged to use available markers to write their answers to the questions.

One of the questions was: What problems would still exist in our schools even if everything was well-funded? This allowed people to write in things like "racism" or "fights," and created the space for people to think about what problems cannot be solved by funding alone.

The meeting was energetically and effectively run. It allowed for small group collaboration and placed an emphasis on student voices. Students overwhelmingly dominated the discussion regarding the kinds of schools they felt they deserve.

Students spoke about wanting more electives, more class variety, "peace builders" (like counselors, "but with street smarts"), a focus on healing (particularly in communities of color), prevention counselors, more mentors, an anti-colonial and anti-racist curriculum, more parent-student-teacher collaboration and much more. By the end of the meeting, participants had begun the work of generating a collective, alternative vision of what public education could look like.

The coordinating committee (a fluid group of committed organizers) will be holding a meeting on February 7 to condense the major points of unity in order to generate a tangible document that outlines an alternative vision of public education. Ultimately, such a document will be vital in the effort to build a multi-organizational, radical, community-organized campaign capable of defeating the status quo.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-largest school district in the country, with over 900 schools and approximately 640,000 students. The sprawling nature of the district has made centralized organization among its students, parents and teachers difficult. There has been a proliferation of highly charged, defensive, localized struggles around individual schools, but not yet a generalized, citywide movement.

However, with the inspiring organizing of teachers, parents and students in Chicago, culminating in the Chicago Teachers Union strike last September, as well as the current boycott of the standardized MAP test by Garfield High School teachers in Seattle, it seems as though the entities capable of organizing a dynamic, broad and potentially transformative education movement in Los Angeles are beginning to coalesce.

The next public coalition meeting will be at 5 p.m. on February 21 at the Southern California Library.