FREE SPEECH ZONE | “Occupy our Public Schools”


Below is the original written version of a speech I gave at the Occupy Minnesota Rally on October 28, 2011.

I’ve been a teacher in Minneapolis public schools for 20 years, and have been active in the union the entire time, including two years as president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.  I have watched corporations continually push their way into the public schools the entire time.  It is clear, corporations hate to see our government money go to the public good, instead of their own pockets.  Unfortunately, corporations and the “1%” have managed to buy out not just the Republicans, but the Democrats as well.

Wall Street is destroying our system of public education as much as every other aspect of our democracy. Educators, parents, and students need to not only “occupy Wall Street,” we need to “occupy our public schools.” Testing companies, textbook corporations, charter school operators, corporate “philanthropists,” and other profit seekers need to be removed from our public space so schools can be truly democratic institutions working for social justice. And, we cannot “hope” for change from the Obama Democrats any more than we can from the Republicans.  Both parties are dominated by corporate money.

1 in 5 children live in poverty in the United States.  In some areas it’s close to 1 out of every 2 children.  Corporations and the politicians they have bought and paid for have created this economic and social reality, and yet it’s the public school teachers who are made the scapegoats for the failed economic system.  When teachers point out the additional challenges facing students in poverty and the need for more resources, we are told we are simply making excuses.  The so-called “education reformers” argue that teachers need to stop making excuses.  This “no excuse” mentality is itself an excuse for corporations and politicians to do nothing about the real problems they have created!


Corporate education “reformers” like to talk about accountability for teachers and public schools, but there is no accountability for them.

Big banks triggered massive home foreclosures and a recession with their sub-prime mortgage scams and faulty mortgage-backed securities. The banks then got bailed out with our tax dollars. At the same time, tax revenue in Minnesota and other states has tanked because of the recession caused by the banks.  In response, the Minnesota legislature took money from public education with gimmicks including funding shifts to pretend to balance the budget. Schools districts were forced to borrow money from the same big banks that created this disaster and pay them back with interest!

Education is a right and the public schools belong to all of us.  We must occupy our public schools as well as Wall Street.

The banks got bailed out, and our schools got sold out!

Robert Panning-Miller is also a co-founder of Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM).

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