I read a piece this morning about the U.S. public education system (“How to Do the Right Thing in a System That is Wrong?”) that compares teachers’ positions in today’s system to the citizens under the regimes of the former Soviet Union. Setting aside the hyperbole (so far, we don’t have an educational secret police) the author’s rallying call makes a lot of sense: “Do the right thing, America. Protest. Stand up and stand against your state’s annual orgy of standardized testing.”
What’s so striking about this piece is its timidity and its apparent ignorance of history. The writer, Marion Brady, seems to assume that the defeat of organized resistance is complete, and that “citizen groups… petitions… speeches… books, articles, op-eds, and letters to editors” are the only legitimate forms of collective resistance. That’s not true. The first line of resistance for teachers has to be their unions. Those communist regimes weren’t defeated by letters to the editor.
It’s important to remember that the successful fight against the Soviet System began with the solidarity movement in Poland. It’s not workers protesting alone, although the risk to individuals was great, it’s large numbers of workers working together towards a common goal. At one time, here in the U.S., we understood the power of collective struggle and work; it’s how we built the modern world. We have to fight the amnesia that tries to fool us into a self-defeating individualism.