Classroom Consciousness | The Nation


Classroom Consciousness

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The public high school students who continue to oppose Edison do so on two main grounds. First, they see it as part of the larger corporate culture that considers young people, and young people of color in particular, just a demographic to be exploited for profit. Second, they see it as the final stage of high schools' longstanding plan to increase policing of students, with measures like metal detectors and security guards.

About the Author

Alissa Quart
Alissa Quart, the author of The Republic of Outsiders and Branded, is the editor for the nonprofit Economic Hardship...

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"I don't have a price tag, and my education shouldn't be for profit," said student activist leader Day Augustine, 18, who attends West Philadelphia High School.

"Do I want to learn that one plus one equals Pepsi?" he added.

"Students are not property."

Ashley Smith, 16, a sophomore with a headful of cherry-red braids, expressed similar sentiments: "A company running a school can only really teach you how to work for a corporation," she said. "I don't want to work for someone's corporation."

When I visited Philadelphia this winter, Ashley and Day sat in a group of fifty teen activists at the headquarters of the Student Union, a nonprofit group devoted to school reform and youth activism that holds weekly meetings. The teen members sat harem-scarem, some on chairs, some on the floor near emptied pizza boxes. They were discussing further student responses to the threat of school privatization. The student activists evenly divided up into arty white teens in postpunk clothes, fingerless arm-length gloves made from cut-up sleeves of shirts, and more conservatively dressed African-American kids, hair dyed the occasional shade of blonde. A male activist arrived with his toddler son and sat next to a female activist just a couple of years younger but with a much more teenager-like mien, multipiercings and a radial tire belt. One girl was giving her friend a new set of cornrows, and another girl was giving a boy a friendly massage.

"Why are schools being privatized?" Eric Braxton, 26, one of the Student Union's three adult organizers, asked the group.

Hands shot up.

"They are trying to set up a franchise," said one teen. "Education as a franchise, like Burger King."

"Because they are preparing us for prison," one boy joked. The kids laughed but also looked uncomfortable. The students often compared public schools to prisons, with fear in their voices mixing with bravado. In conversation, they extended the metaphor of the prison to the Edison schools, where classes would be taught from mass-produced scripts by teachers responsible to a home office, with students potentially having to walk in straight lines down hallways in single file, hands at their sides or behind their backs, halls divided by yellow lines like highways.

(According to Edison Schools Inc., school uniforms and walks are instituted on a school-by-school basis and not as a blanket policy. Both exist not to police students, according to Edison, but to promote "core values" like respect and order.)

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