Sinclair Lewis wrote the satirical political novel, It Can’t Happen Here, in 1935, when the United States and Western Europe had been in a depression for six years.  Lewis asks us to consider what could happen if some ambitious politician used the 1936 presidential election to make himself dictator by promising quick, easy solutions to the depression – just as Hitler had done in Germany in 1933. Of course, the Americans in the novel thought it could ‘Never happen here’. Until, that is, people were so poor that the only employment available was the military. Until freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom to redress the government was taken from them. It’s a novel worth re-reading because it’s so prescient.

It can’t happen here. Not to education. Not in 2012. Really?

Say this 100 times until you know it by heart: “There is no crisis in education.” The real problem–poverty–has been kept from a public dialogue by ambitious politicians, greedy corporations, hedge fund managers and religious zealots in whose interest it is to suck money from public education and/or remake it in their own image. All of the talk about remaking education and re-framing the conversation has been done without research, experience or input from the very people whose lives are at at stake-parents, teachers and students. Real reform is taking place in school districts throughout the United States, right under the noses of all of us but without the sanction of the greedy or the recognition of the media.

Now I’ve come to read that Walden Films, which produced “Waiting for Superman” and is owned by right-winger and voucher proponent Philip Anschutz, is using its power to produce a full length movie, “Still I Rise,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. The movie will focus on two “frustrated mothers who take action to change their troubled local public school, and will also focus on America’s educational crisis as a whole.” 

Can you hear the echoes, people? Can you see the synchronicity: NBC sponsors a day devoted to ‘education reform,’ newspapers hype it, talk show hosts exalt the premise that schools are in crisis, documentaries are made, feature films prove “The Truth.”

It can’t happen here? It’s happened.

The novel doesn’t disappoint. It ends on a hopeful note, (Spoiler alert), but it is the people-not the government, not the corporations, not the far right-the people who finally see the light and rise against those who have profited from America’s passivity. It must be a multitude of parents willing to fight for their schools, hordes of teachers who have the language to describe the good that they do and gobs of students who have become responsible for their own learning.

Say it is the Education Spring. Say it is Occupy Education. But don’t say It Can’t Happen Here.



About The Author

Nancy Letts

Nancy Letts consults with school districts, professional organizations and public sector agencies.Her teaching appointments have included public schools in Pennsylvania and New York, and at Pace University and the City University of New York. She and her work have been the subject of articles in the New York Times, Teaching K-8 Magazine, Thinking: the Journal of Philosophy for Children, and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” She has been a contributor to the Teachers College Record, The Quarterly at UC Berkeley, and Teaching magazine. Audio tapes include”Building Learning Organizations,” and “Getting Started With Portfolios,” from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her book "Creating the Caring Classroom" is published by Scholastic Professional Books.

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