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PSU gives Keynote at Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair

On Friday, October 17th, we were honored to be the keynote speaker for the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair. Koby Murphy, a PSU alumnus, and Mahala Papadopoulos, a current PSU member, delivered the keynote to a room full of hundreds of parents, students, organizers and teachers.

keynote 1

The vision and goals for the day-long fair:

Bring together educators. students, parents, and communities from across the Twin Cities Metro to collaborate, network, and organize social justice in educationGoals: 
1. Promote high quality social justice practices and curriculum
2. Identify and work to eliminate the ways schools perpetuate injustice, including but not limited to racism, hetero-patriarchy, ageism, ableism, and capitalism
3. Organize K12 educators, students, parents, and communities to transform our education system on the principles of community self-determination and worker control, sustainability, freedom, and social justice
keynote 2

Koby and Mahala began their keynote speech by explaining to the audience how we got to where we are today in Philadelphia.

“Over time the Philadelphia School District has adopted a “portfolio model of schools”, borrowing the Wall Street lingo of a “diverse portfolio”, in which there are many different kinds of schools. In Philly alone we have neighborhood schools, magnet schools, citywide admit schools, charter schools, Renaissance schools, Promise Academies and alternative schools. This pits schools, students, and communities against each other in a competition for resources. Magnet schools are better off than our neighborhood schools when it comes to teachers, school environment, and resources while our neighborhood schools often receive less qualified and experienced teachers, have a poor school climate, and a constant lack of resources. These differences in public schools are blatant and widely accepted, not because people think its okay but rather we haven’t had the power to change the disparities. It further reminds us that our schools shouldn’t be run like businesses, because we are not products or consumers but rather humans who all have the right to an equal education no mater where we live.”
keynote 6

Mahala broke down PSU’s analysis of the school-to-prison pipeline for the audience:

“It has been shown, time and time again that an increased presence of cops does not make the schools any safer. So what does it mean that the school district fired counselors and prioritizes cops? It means that the School District values keeping the students “in line” more than keeping them safe, whereas if there were counselors it says something completely different. Having counselors says that instead of needing to control the students, the School District values them.I want to read a quote from The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander that helps me think about the school-to-prison pipeline: “The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society. Academics have developed complicated theories and obscure jargon in an effort to describe what is now referred to as structural racism, yet the concept is fairly straightforward. One theorist, Iris Marion Young, relying on a famous “birdcage” metaphor, explains it this way: If one thinks about racism as examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to enclose the bird and ensure that it cannot escape. (Alexander, 179)”Each wire of the cage is a different system, which might not be oppressive on it’s own, but all together, the school cops, the criminal justice system, the lack of counselors and resources, serve to build the school-to-prison pipeline…In the Philadelphia Student Union we define violence as power that hurts people’s chances at survival. We do not just look at physical violence but also at the ways that institutions are violent towards students. By making these cuts to our staff and supplies, by giving us more cops than counselors, our school district is being violent to us and pushing students into the school-to-prison pipeline.”
keynote 7

Koby and Mahala spoke to the ways in which our struggles are connected in not just the Twin Cities and Philadelphia, but nation-wide. They brought the analysis of PSU, which is that there is a strategic plan to privatize public education across the United States.

“The Broad Foundation, along with the Walton Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation have pushed for a privatization agenda for decades. As a movement for education justice, we need to push for our voices to be heard above the noise created by these corporate giants. They have been strategizing, which means that we need to be developing our plan to fight back even more.”

Koby and Mahala spoke about what got them involved in PSU. For Koby, it was as friend who recruited him and a retreat that made him stay. Mahala was interested in PSU’s work after #walkout215 in May of 2013, when she walked out of school in 8th grade.

keynote 3

Mahala inspired the crowd at the end of the keynote:

“THIS. This right here. This is an example of what we need to win. We have what we need to win! Look at your neighbor sitting next to you. Look around at each other and know that we are not alone in this fight. Now, more than ever is when we need to push! To push ourselves to fight like our lives depend on it. To fight so that no parent ever has to worry about their child at school. So that we will never lose another young person to a treatable illness because there is no nurse in their school. So that no young person will ever be arrested in their school. So that every teacher has the resources they need to be the powerful educator that they know the can be. By assembling together. By joining one another. By sharing our successes and failures. That is how we will win.”
keynote 5

Koby asked the audience to keep fighting and we asked the fair attendees if they would commit to fighting against the privatization of our schools. Students, parents, teachers, and organizers stood and pledged that they would.

Thank you to the organizers of the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair for inviting us and for beging gracious hosts.

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