Saturday, March 7, 2015

Regaining our Humanity and Co-optation 
Right now across the country there are students, teachers, parents, and community members rising up in an act of civil disobedience, stating their proclamation to reclaim public education by refusing to be servants to the corporations and the federal mandates which attempt to destroy our schools, and ultimately our democracy.  We are refusing the tests.

As we rise up and feel our own power - our power to restore dignity to our teaching profession, our power to give children what they all deserve, our power to be truthful, good and kind to our school communities, and shed our skin of the horrible mandates which have attempted to pit all of us against one another, we should recognize our ability to change the world,  and indeed embrace it, and one another. We can regain our humanity; it takes immense, hard, back-breaking work, but we can do it, and we must harness that power and success, and feel it. It feels good to be human and no longer a serf fulfilling mandates that harm our country. When you regain that feeling, take stock - pause - and create a space in your memory to bring that feeling back - we must not forget what it feels like to truly be human in a country that is founded on democratic values.

However, as we see success surround us, that doesn't mean our work is done. Our work right now is based on a solid foundation of civil disobedience. Our ability to refuse tests gives us such immense power that we literally may take down the common core national tests this year.  But there are other forces at play right now that could attempt to stop us by co-opting the Opt Out Movement.

What is co-optation?

Movements can also decline, if their organizations are highly dependent on centralized authority or on charismatic leadership, through co-optation. Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents. For example, a leader could be asked to work for the organization that is the target of a movement with offers of being able to change things from the inside. Instead they themselves become integrated into the organization and take on its values, rather than the social movement’s values. Leaders could also be paid off by authorities or target groups who ask them to redirect their activities in exchange. See more here.

Co-optation is occurring right now in multiple ways. 

For example, ECS recently came out with an "opt out" document. The Education Commission of the States created this document to let folks know the legalities around opt out. This document is now being shared in tweets, on FB, as well as in articles by educational groups and individuals.  This document allows folks to jump on the Opt Out Bandwagon, while defeating the main reason we have been successful as a social movement. We are successful because we recognize opt out as an act of civil disobedience. When folks share this document, while ignoring the social movement constituents - we are looking at a co-optation. Why share this document when local grassroots Opt Out movements are going strong across the country -  why not share information from the local and national grassroots groups versus ECS, who now gives the appearance of being an authority on opt out? This is a clear attempt to creep into our territory, co-opt it, and water down our message and our intent.

This is what ECS has to say about themselves:

What sets us apart
  • We don't take sides. We're not an advocacy organization.
  • We are non-partisan. By law, our chair alternates between Democratic and Republican governors every two years. We provide a platform for meaningful dialogue wherever you stand.
  • We cover the P-20 spectrum. We work with policymakers, researchers and practitioners at all levels of education, from pre-K to postsecondary and beyond.
  • We cross silos in governance. ECS is the only state-focused national organization to bring together governors, state legislators, K-12 and higher education department chiefs and other education leaders.
I would recommend that everyone check out their website. However, the above blurb may be enough to enlighten you. But you know what, just for kicks- would you check out their funders? Be sure you are sitting down when you do - head to page 21 and breathe deeply. 

So, as folks muddy the waters for opt out and share this document that is funded by those whose names my fingers are unable to type for fear of breaking my keyboard (which is why you have to go look at the above link yourself - I can't afford a new computer), we must understand clearly what is going on. And we cannot, I repeat, cannot, allow this social movement to be co-opted. If you see this ECS document anywhere - call it out for what it is - an attempt to co-opt a social movement that truly has the momentum to save our public schools, therefore our democracy.

As Tim Slekar, my dear friend, who is also a UOO founder, states:

Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a deliberate action! It is a movement to restore the civic mission of American public schools - providing a foundational education for all children in critical participatory democracy. It is a deliberate act of conscience - an act of civil disobedience that targets the coveted data produced by high stakes tests. Simply, it is a movement to end the dismantling of public schools.

We cannot allow opt out to be co-opted by groups who suddenly have the time and money to research all 50 states and report the legal mumbo jumbo while denying the public the true intent behind opt out - we don't need their legal mumbo jumbo in order to opt out. And, didn't we at UOO already do that research, for free? We have always viewed our opt out guides as a starting point, but ultimately opt out has always been an act of civil disobedience. The guides simply create a base, and then we move forward with action.

ECS is funded by those who wish to privatize - did you see the funders? Is your heart racing? 


This is the deal - we are not worried about opt out being legal or not - and we cannot allow such documents to water down the higher intent of opt out. We should also recognize that any such documents that suddenly appear in the midst of this revolution are appearing because we are gaining power and they know it. They didn't bother to research this before because we were not a threat. 

Now, we are. Feel your power as you regain your humanity. But again, there's more.

Let's take this a step further and consider another potential co-optation. Right now folks are working hard to pass opt out bills across the nation - I myself have assisted in such endeavors in the past. But, as I have been watching our progress this year I have reconsidered my stance on opt out bills. I'll admit, I was never a big fan of them as I felt that such bills were a bandaid, but now, I am gravely concerned about how these bills might impact our social movement. Number one - an opt out bill means it is no longer an act of civil disobedience; opt out becomes legal.  If opt out is legal, where is our power?  And if we push for an opt out bill, what do we sacrifice as a result? I fear that opt out bills could cause our power to diminish and create a sense of a small win, when in reality, it could be a monumental loss.

To get to the heart of the issue I must ask these questions:

Do we simply want to opt out of the tests OR do we want to demand that our schools are equitably funded, democratic, anti-racist, desegregated, filled with wrap around services, art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, libraries, while being developmentally appropriate as our schools prepare students to exercise compassion and critical decision making with civic virtue? What do we want? And why would we settle for less for our children? We must be clear about why we opt out.

Some will say to me, we must start somewhere and we must chip away at this, therefore an opt out bill is a win. I am not sure I agree. So, just food for thought. I know there is much controversy around this topic, but I had to put my thoughts out there in the context of a co-optation. 

I'm going to push a bit more as we think about co-optation. If suddenly everyone agrees with us and believes these tests are horrible, and states it loud and clear, what next? I mean, sheesh, everywhere we turn there is sympathy for our plight - bless their hearts they care....or do they? Do they really care about us regaining our humanity? Is that why Wired magazine says Standardized Tests Suck. But the Fix is More Data, Not Less. I mean...Wired loves Bill Gates, right? Opt out could become the cool thing to do.....let's think about how cool that might be, because we all agree these tests suck, right?

Well, if standardized testing sucks, and we need more data, not less, I'd say this is the time to usher in corporate formative testing and more online curriculum.  Heck - the more data the merrier - let's pile it on folks as we continue to increase the profits in the testing industry, where the increase has been a measly 57% in the last three years. We can do better than that!!!!  And if formative testing and curriculum are all tied to the report card grades, how will one opt out of it? Well, there's no need to! Opt out is gone! Because standardized testing sucks! We were so cool that they joined us and helped us take the common core national tests down. Thanks Bill Gates.

Beware of folks who are rallying around opt out suddenly and proclaiming that testing sucks without considering first : Why do they rally now? What is their intent? And what might they possible have to gain personally, or as a group or organization?

How might co-optation benefit them?  

Because let's face facts, those of us in this for the right reasons don't have the money to get an article in Wired Magazine, nor do we have the power to get folks in high places to retweet our work within one day - as was the case with the ECS report.

We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted. Embrace opt out as an act of civil disobedience. 

So, again, find that space where you remember what it feels like to be human. I felt it a week ago, and then it disappeared, and I had to grasp to get it back. Find it, remember it, and hold on for dear life. We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted if we hope to regain our humanity for ourselves and for the future of our country. Solidarity to all of you. 


  1. Peggy, this is so thought-provoking I am spinning. Thank you for being a step ahead and holding the flashlight as we walk down the wooded trail in the dark, or so it feels. I am going to spread this far and wide in Seattle, and we will not be co-opted. Parents have the power, the heart, the insight and the will, and we will prevail while keeping our wits about us.

  2. Wow, Peg! My keyboard won't break, so I'll type it - Pearson is one of the funders/ partners of ECS.
    Thank you for such a thoughtful, far-sighted reflection.