The Resurgent Movement for Public Education in the Obama Era
The Real News spoke to author and journalist Nikhil Goyal at last week’s DNC about America’s faltering education system and whether Democrats can bring about the change needed to fix it
THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. My name is Thomas Hedges. I’m a producer. We’re here in front of City Hall where large numbers, probably thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters have gathered. We’re here with Nikhil Goyal. And he’s quite a young activist. He’s just come out with a book on America’s education system. And he just got down here from New York today. So talk about your issue with education.
NIKHIL GOYAL: Yeah. I mean, I think there is–it’s really interesting what’s happening right now in terms of the fight for public education. Obviously Hillary Clinton got the support of the major teachers’ unions, AFT and NEA. But I think–it should be interesting to see, because when you compare this time to the, right before Obama was elected, there was never a movement in support of–there was never a large movement in support of public education. And now, I think, because Hillary Clinton–in an effort not to be embarrassed, or be protested or heckled by people that are advocating for public education, has been kind of forced to concede some of the principles on charter schools, on testing, on merit pay, things like that, to the people who are pro-union and pro-public education.
So I think–look, if whoever Hillary Clinton–and if she becomes president, whoever she ultimately picks for Secretary of Education, I’ll be there making sure that we hold her accountable on that. I was one of the people who was leading a campaign to prevent and stop John King from being nominated as the Secretary of Education by President Obama, and I will be more than happy to do that if Hillary Clinton supports a corporate reformer, or somebody who is against the fundamental principles of public education.
HEDGES: Are there any education panels or events happening this week?
GOYAL: Not that I’m aware of. Again, it’s not as big of an issue as I would have liked it to be. But I think there is definitely some hope. At least, for example, the opt-out movement. I don’t think they have a major presence here, but I think there’s definitely signs that policymakers, as well as community organizations and parents of students and teachers, are realizing that the standardized testing regime is unethical, it’s harming children, and it needs to be dismantled.
So I think there’s growing consensus on that issue. Always talk about–always, there’s the electoral approach in bringing more progressive [inaud.], but also the grassroots. Because that, arguably, is what’s going to hold leaders to it.
HEDGES: It’s like boxing. You’ve got to use two hands, right.
GOYAL: Right, exactly.
HEDGES: Yeah. And one interesting–I mean, a lot of people point out, too–just to go off what you’re saying, that it doesn’t matter too much who’s in office. It matters who is pushing, pressuring whoever’s in power. A lot of people say that the last really progressive president was Nixon. You get the EPA, you get OSHA, and lot of these–.
GOYAL: Right. That’s precisely it. That’s exactly it. Nixon was like–.
HEDGES: And it’s not like he was some kind of closet liberal, or–.
GOYAL: Right, right. No, but that’s what they–I’ve heard that many times, I think on Bill [Moyer’s] show, or something. And I think that it’s really important–like, if you look at where progressives have been able to achieve great victories, it’s when there’s enormous power in the streets.
So what I’d really like to see is that, say Hillary Clinton becomes president. Then if she goes and supports something like TPP, then you have the entire mobilization of the Sanders base coming and protesting that. And I think–I don’t know if it’s certain, but if there is enough power in that movement, then she will be forced to backtrack and go a different direction. So I think that’s what I’m hopeful for, and see where there’s some signs of progress, in making sure that Hillary Clinton–she’s going to commit terrible things, terrible deeds in her time in office, maybe supporting the Israeli occupation, maybe the continued drone strikes in the Middle East. But I think there are some issues where we can actually force her to change her positions on–.
Because she doesn’t want to be embarrassed. And I don’t know, we’re going to see what’s going to happen. But I think, whoever’s president, we need to [inaud.].
HEDGES: My last question is, is there really a difference between Trump and Clinton?
GOYAL: Yes, there is. I think primarily–like, the way I look at it is there’s not many differences, foreign policy-wise. But domestically, my main concern is the issue of the rhetoric around Muslims. I think that’s–look, Hillary Clinton, she goes and bombs–supports bombing innocent civilians in the Middle East, and that’s not–I mean, there’s a difference between that and just hourly–there’s not much of a difference between that and hourly anti-Muslim bigotry.
But my, my concern is that you have these millions of Donald Trump supporters who are, arguably, many of them are tied to white nationalist and white supremacist groups. And they come and see this guy coming into power. I think it’s extremely worrying, in that sense, and also the sense of the kind of stoking of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. Again, Democrats, they do that, just not as explicitly as Republicans who may–Obama has deported more immigrants than many presidents combined.
HEDGES: Every other [one.]
GOYAL: Every–yeah. So that’s my main worry about Donald Trump.
But I think the–kind of the larger point is that if, say, you had a Hillary Clinton in office, and you had a very strong progressive movement, you can actually–look, I might be a little bit optimistic here, but I think you can hold her to account on several issues. I mean, TPP is, like, an interesting example, because I think she’s been forced to kind of change her position on that, and hse calls it the gold standard of trade agreements.
HEDGES: But in the end she voted not to ban, in the platform committee, you know, not to ban–and that was pressure from Obama, but I’m sure that that feeds–it’s intertwined with the, you know–.
GOYAL: And it shows the limitations of this movement. Like, it’s still growing.
And the other thing I think is a little bit troubling is that I think this movement needs to become much more, much more based–much more inclusive of other races. I think we’re in Philly here, we have chronic unemployment, chronically underfunded schools, segregated schools. And I would like to see more–I would like to see the progressive movement try to make more inroads within communities of color. Those are the communities which overwhelmingly voted for Clinton, and those are the communities, in my opinion, have been the most hard-hit by the neoliberal and militaristic policies of the past four or five decades. And so I would like to see much more of an effort on the part of progressives to make this a much more, a coalition of black, brown, and white people. And also from the working class and the poor.
HEDGES: Great. Well, thanks a lot for joining us. And thank you for joining on the Real News Network.
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