MN group calls for more bottom-up public schools


A nationwide movement designed to promote accessible, democratically-controlled public education may soon find a home in Minnesota.

Last Thursday, a group of local students, teachers and community members gathered on the third floor of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College library to refine their plan to establish Minnesota’s version of the nationwide In Defense of Public Education movement that began in California last fall.

The push to bring the movement to the state will culminate Oct. 7 with a statewide protest called Day of Actions in Defense of Public Education.

“We are opposed to the current top-down bureaucracy where managers make all the decisions about education and put everybody in competition for scarce resources,” said Eli Meyerhoff, an organizer with the group and a University of Minnesota doctoral candidate focusing on educational politics.

Symptoms of this, he said, include tuition hikes up to 150 percent over the past 10 years at the University and budget cuts in schools at a time when families and students are struggling to find jobs.

Brian Apland, a University senior majoring in global studies and Russian studies, said the group hopes to be educational and give students, faculty and staff an “organized base” to “fight for a more just system.”

It all started with a protest among California schools after the tuition increased by 32 percent in the University of California system.

The protests spread nationwide March 4, the “National Day of Action for Public Education.” That day, about 200 University of Minnesota students, faculty and staff rallied, shouting their message to “chop from the top” in front of Morrill Hall before marching through Coffman Union and taking over Washington Avenue, slowing traffic for about 15 minutes.

While University protesters were the only ones in Minnesota that participated in the March 4 protests, the event will expand in the state Oct. 7 to include colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

“Building relationships across the different levels and institutions of education is crucial,” Meyerhoff said. “It allows us to understand how the problems of the school system as a whole are interconnected.”

The movement is collaborating with Ethnic Studies Week, a nationwide effort to defend and promote ethnic studies programs in schools.

Arizona recently passed a law banning ethnic studies classes, such as Mexican–American studies, in public schools.

“This diminishes civil rights education,” said Anne Winkler-Morey, a former University professor of history and Chicano studies.

The bill was overshadowed by other controversial issues, such as the state’s immigration bill, and many people weren’t aware of it, she said. 

The University’s “obsession” with competing for rankings — such as becoming one of the top public research universities in the world — has a trickle-down effect on the whole educational system, Meyerhoff said.

Furthermore, it spreads “conformism and competition,” disconnecting education from community needs.

“Instead of high-stakes testing and teachers’ merit pay,” he said, “our movement is modeling a cooperative democratic setting of educational priorities that we would like to see for all schools.”