Highland TA member Stephanie Santagata scanned Lecture Hall 100 on the SUNY New Paltz campus and noted the couple hundred people who had taught and mentored and studied together for decades. They gathered Monday night to screen the documentary film, "Education, Inc.," that illuminates the insidious role of corporate interests in public education.
"We may be preaching to the choir," she said. "But, if everybody in the room tells 20 people about what they learn tonight, it will help spread the word, and it's really important to help spread the word!"
Pointing out former students and teachers in the crowd, Santagata described public education as a "living, growing garden of continuing relationships that shape and form people's lives and make you who you are. How we manipulate that education should not be taken lightly, and that education is most certainly under attack."
"Education, Inc." is a short film made through the eyes of parent and filmmaker Brian Malone. Malone, who lives in Douglas County, Colorado, traveled cross-country in search of the real story behind the so-called education reform movement. What he found is a deliberate, orchestrated effort by billionaires and hedge funders to dismantle public education and privatize it.
The screening was organized jointly by Santagata and the Highland TA, led by President Paul Latino, and the UUP chapter at SUNY New Paltz, led by Beth Wilson.
Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, spoke prior to the screening and urged attendees to "pressure your legislators to change or scrap the teacher evaluation system; to make real investment in schools to give every kid a fair chance; to listen to the people, not the billionaires."
Suzanne DeAngelo Coyle, an outspoken parent activist with three children in public schools, said the Common Core standards show no regard for special ed students and English language learners, nor is poverty addressed.
"My kids are not dollar signs. No one's children are, and they are not test scores," she said. The governor's current task force that is looking at the standards needs to produce real solutions, she said.
"We're not going to be satisfied by tweaks or name changes … We want our classrooms back, and our local control, all of it," she added. "Our kids are not OK and they are depending on us."
Lakeland TA President Mike Lillis, echoing the call for meaningful reform, walked through the math and showed how the Cuomo rhetoric does not add up. "The governor is using a completely manufactured narrative of our failing schools," Lillis said. "We, as a community, need to stand up and challenge him with valid information."
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Ulster/Dutchess, who was one of the few who voted against the Cuomo budget bill last year, was greeted with a standing ovation.
"New York's education system is a gem in the United States and it is under attack —not just from people who want to make a political point, it's under attack from people who want to get rich," he said. "Let's fix education funding; let's turn it back to the educators."
Go to NYSUT's Member Action Center for a listing of future regional showings of "Education, Inc." If you haven't seen it, you should. Then tell 20 people what you learn.