An open letter to Michael Moore from Sharon Higgins

Dear Mr. Moore,

I am one of the people who will have the opportunity to see you at your UC Berkeley book event this Saturday night. It’s going to be great to hear you speak!

Yesterday, as I listed to your interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, I was happy to hear how you have considered doing a documentary about the American school system. I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of people who make that request of you everyday.

It’s clear that you are aware of some of the devastating issues facing public education, such as the demoralization of teachers. I was impressed that you knew how Finland’s success is the result of great policy decisions made years ago (the type of decisions our country continues to ignore). I was very gratified to hear that you did not like Waiting for Superman.

I believe that you are going to get more and more requests to make a documentary about public education. A lot of public school supporters are extremely upset at how public education is being forced to go down the wrong road. We want the truth to be exposed, and will keep turning to you for help.

That alarming truth is that our nation’s public education system is in the process of being dismantled and privatized in the name of “education reform.” The strategies being used are right out of the disaster capitalism playbook, with both Republicans and Democrats in support of the plan (including President Obama’s administration). A wrong-headed, glorified “business model of education” has been shoved down our throats but it’s not working. The school reform we’ve now been subjected to for years is failing!

Opportunists and predators (“edupreneurs”) are having a feeding frenzy on the stream of public school funding. School districts spend millions on consultants and useless programs, and then whittle away at teachers, librarians, and electives for kids. Privately-run, publicly-funded, inadequately-monitored charter schools get preferential treatment and the myth of their superiority is constantly parroted.

Billionaires are using their philanthropic foundations to manipulate and direct education policy. CEOs and hedge fund managers are funding propaganda to stir up anti-teacher and pro-charter school sentiment; to them a future of charter school expansion means gold (and here). The U.S. Department of Education is bribing cash strapped states to implement its favored, but unproven reforms. Economists are funded and given permission to experiment on kids. Arrogant business-oriented school leaders and policymakers have acquired control and ignore important research. Knowledgeable educators and parents have been denied seats at the table.

Education in the public schools is now about preparing for tests. Today’s students are viewed as data points and are being overdosed with test prep, drill and kill. Art, music and even recess are disappearing in schools with a devastating effect on kids. Teachers’ livelihoods and public schools’ existence depend on the results of high stakes testing and this has led to gaming the system and cheating. Many of the most outspoken pundits, politicians and bureaucrats who are pushing this business-model of ed reform attended private schools. They also send their children to private schools with tiny classes, but have no qualms about pushing large class sizes on public school kids. More and more buckets of money are being poured into companies that profit from students testing.

The tolerance for exclusion and school segregation is increasing, and there is a continuing deafening silence from our leaders about America’s shamefully high child poverty and incarceration rates. Teachers have been made into scapegoats for all our social ills, and the dignity of their profession is being eroded away. A miniscule group of Americans is acquiring an ever-increasing amount of wealth, and there are always justifications for why public schools shouldn’t be better funded.

It’s clearly time to ratchet up the resistance to all of these things. So I hope you’ll decide to join in the fight against what I’ve mentioned here. If you decide to make a film about these things, know that there is a whole network of very knowledgeable public school parents who will help you along.

I look forward to making your acquaintance when you sign my copy of Here Comes Trouble. I will be bringing two items for you: a copy of education historian Diane Ravitch’s important and best-selling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, as well as a copy of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman, a new film produced by a grassroots group of teachers and parents in New York. I think you will appreciate both items very much.

With hope for a better future,

Sharon Higgins, Oakland, CA

Co-founder of Parents Across America

PS: Are you aware that Matt Damon made a special trip to Washington, D.C. so he could speak to the teachers and public school supporters attending the Save Our Schools March this past July? My group, Parents Across America helped to organize and co-sponsored that event.


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