Colgate Hosts 43rd Annual Education Conference

The New York State Foundations of Education Association hosted its 43rd annual conference at Colgate over the course of February 28 and March 1. The conference, titled “Teacher and Teacher Educators Talking Back: Reclaiming the Public in Public Education,” was focused on pushing back against the privatization movement in public education that has been occurring over the past several decades.

The conference consisted of a variety of speakers from across the State of New York and surrounding areas, including scholars, students, parents and community members from Buffalo, New York City, Cortland, Ithaca, the Hudson Valley and Sherburne-Earlville. The keynote speaker, Julie Cavanagh, has been a public school teacher in Red Hook, Brooklyn, for over 12 years. Cavanagh has also worked with a number of grassroots organizations to voice the resistance against corporate reforms in education through media sources such as the Huffington Post and MSNBC.

Cavanagh spoke to an audience of about 80 people on Friday night at Good Nature Brewing Tap Room. The conversation promoted a sense of activism that was prevalent throughout the weekend’s events. Friday’s session was followed by a number of speeches and workshops on Saturday that took place at the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center.

Colgate’s Associate and Assistant Professors of Educational Studies Barbara Regenspan and Mark Stern worked to organize the conference, with the help of senior Kate Maffei and first-year Grace Western.

“Much of our time was spent analyzing the malignant and violent corporate reforms infecting public education today and, in turn, thinking how we, as teachers, parents, community members, scholars and students can work to push back against them,” Stern said.

The New York State Foundations of Education Association has worked to rollback the privatization of public education in the United States, believing that corporations and billionaires such as Bill Gates have used their assets to damage the public education system. Although they admit that America’s public education system isn’t perfect, the Association finds that the proliferation of standardized testing, charter schools and state standards initiatives like the Common Core are doing much more harm than good.

“There’s an incredible dichotomy that alienates us as teachers and students and narrows our imagination on what public education can be,” Professor Barbara Madeloni of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said. “The learning experience has grown to become a matter of ‘What am I supposed to say?’ so that it has completely removed the creative thinking aspect of education.”

A common critique of standardized testing and the Common Core is that it forces educators to “teach to the test.”

“Productivity and efficiency become the main goals of this banking style approach to education,” Syracuse graduate student Heidi Spitzer said. She said that teaching has been reduced to “reading a script,” which not only limits what and how one can teach, but also raises the question of who is calling the shots.

Private organizations, such as Pearson PLC, for instance, have made millions of dollars off of their partnerships with public educational systems throughout the U.S. In 2010, Pearson secured a $32 million contract with the NYS Department of Education to design tests for students in grades four through eight.

“Wealth is accreting in the hands of the fewer and fewer as we speak,” Regenspan said. “These neoliberal reforms in education are being financed by very big money. We need to hold the working class accountable.”

It is through conferences such as the one held at Colgate this weekend that the NYS Foundations of Education Association hopes to make this accountability possible and to “reclaim the public in public education.”

Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected].