Occupy Takes on Gates Vision for Education

March 14, 2012; Source: Counterpunch

The increasing level of concern with the power of megafoundations over public policy has reached the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy Seattle marchers took their “Occupy Education” event on March 1st to the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their chant, according to Seattle public high school teacher Jesse Hagopian, was “Gates Foundation, you will fail! Education is not for sale!”

One of the Occupy marchers himself, Hagopian described the Gates Foundation as “a leading promoter of corporate education reform.” The Occupy protesters “expected a no show from the foundation that they would have to chalk up as an unexcused absence,” but Hagopian reports that the foundation sent “three poor souls to debate the Occupy movement.” The Occupiers offered Wayne Au, a former schoolteacher and editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, who, as presented in the Counterpunch article, made mincemeat of the Gates staff.

Although there was some Occupy/Gates debate about charter schools, Hagopian and Au seemed to focus their attack on the Gates Foundation’s support for standardized testing. Hagopian cited much of the history of school testing, including elements that linked the origins of standardized testing to the theories of “racist pseudoscientists” and even promoters of eugenics. According to Hagopian, the Foundation’s promotion of standardized testing “is merely the repackaging of eugenics for a ‘post-racial’ era in which it is ‘passé’ to espouse racist ideas, and yet American society—from the prisons to the schools—is dominated by institutional racism.” Hagopian concluded, “Occupy Education made it clear that day that we will not allow billionaire flunkies to remake our schools in the image of a production line, where stopwatches are used to measure the workers’ (teachers) efficiency at producing commodities (students).”

Are the megafoundations with strong top-down agendas of reform in education (or health, both Gates Foundation fortes) going to be seen as constituents of the one percent and thus a target of the Occupy movement? Is this protest at the gates of the Gates Foundation a new phase of the Occupy movement—one which targets institutions of unimaginable wealth and power like the megafoundations?—Rick Cohen