News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

December 06, 2019

AOC documentary director blasts GO Public Schools for Oakland event

On Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, GO Public Schools, an astroturf organization driving charter school expansion in Oakland, hosted a watch party for the documentary “Knock Down the House” for its members at the New Parkway Theater. The film follows the grassroots campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin as each runs for Congress on progressive, anti-corporate platforms.

The film’s director, Rachel Lears, was disturbed to find out that GO Public Schools, which is funded by billionaire education privatizers like the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Rogers Family Foundation, and Michael Bloomberg, was hosting a screening of her film. These are the people and foundations seeking to turn public education into a commodity rather than a free, universal right — a direct affront to the progressive politics of the women and movements featured in the film.

The film’s four stars have all endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. Unsurprisingly, Sanders’ vision for public education is directly at odds with the mission of GO Public Schools. His Thurgood Marshall Plan for Education calls for a massive reinvestment in public schools, including tripling of Title I funding for high-needs schools and making the federal government responsible for at least 50% of special education funding. The plan also echoes the call of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to ban for-profit charter schools and to put a moratorium on federal funding for new charter schools. Sanders’ proposal channels the spirit of the teachers’ strike wave that has swept the nation over the past two years. Like the striking teachers of Oakland and elsewhere, Sanders is demanding high-quality education for all and fighting back against efforts by billionaires to privatize our schools.

Lears shared the following statement with Oakland Not for Sale (ONFS), a group of parents and teachers fighting school closures and privatization in Oakland. ONFS members read the statement aloud in the theater before the movie began last night. 

A statement from Rachel Lears, director of “Knock Down the House”:

“I was disturbed to find out recently that a screening of my film “Knock Down the House” is being planned by GO Public Schools, a charter school organization operating in Oakland. While I have no doubt that some individual teachers, parents and administrators involved with GO Public Schools may share the progressive values that underlie the film, the larger trends of charter schools and public school privatization are completely antithetical to the film’s mission of promoting a democratic process that is accessible and accountable to all people. Despite progressive rhetoric, charter schools are not a progressive force in America: nationally, 90% of charter schools are non-union, and overall they are more segregated than public schools. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 that charters are private corporations, not subject to the same laws as public schools. The largest private funder of charter schools (including GO Public Schools) is the anti-union Walton family; working with US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos they are currently engaged in a national push to privatize public education by promoting charter schools and voucher programs.

Publicly funded but privately run, charters do not perform better than public schools, but divert resources from them. Oakland is known nationally as among the worst districts in the nation for diverting public funds to charter schools, leaving students in the district in a precarious position. GO Public Schools advocates for this larger diversion project.

Charter schools are marketed as a quick fix for the inequities of public education, but with no accountability to the public and no obligation or duty to educate all students, privatization leads to greater inequality, not less. The only way to actually fix the system is renewed and expanded commitment from national, state and local governments to support and improve public schools for all students. This must include supporting teachers with resources, dignity and respect, including living wages, benefits, and the right to collectively bargain within unions.

“Knock Down the House” is about the capacity of ordinary working people to build power in themselves and in communities through solidarity and collective action, and in that process to demand a political system accountable to regular people, rather than big donors and corporate interests. Public education is the foundation of the democratic ideals and egalitarian aspirations portrayed in the film, and held dear by most Americans. The trend toward privatization of public schools in America leads in a dangerous direction away from these ideals and goals. Instead of diverting resources away from public schools to charters, communities, governments and concerned individuals should double down on a shared commitment to providing excellent education to all students, regardless of their backgrounds, skills or needs, by supporting and improving our public schools. I would prefer that my film be used to promote this mission, rather than the privatization of public education.”