My name is Rich Liuzzi, and I was an educator and community member of Alexander Wilson Elementary School. In 2013, Wilson was one of 24 public schools that were closed by the District. When Wilson closed, every member of our community lost a piece our individual and collective selves. I believe that the closing of our school – as well as the conditions under which our school existed before its closing – are forms of structural violence perpetrated against our community and the many others like it that have faced similar fates.
Whenever I see a student, parent, or educator from Wilson, they inevitably express how much they miss our school.
Even more tragically, they almost always ask the question, “why did they close our school?”
You’d think it would be difficult to describe the ideology of neoliberal school reform to children, but of course, it’s easier than one would think, because they live the realities produced by this ideology every day in their schools.
They’re subjected to the injustice of “teaching to the test” that betrays the potential of education as the practice of freedom in the name of education as a system of control and conformity.
They bear the brunt of “no excuses” disciplinary policies that criminalize their right to be children, to have emotions, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. Or, in the case of the assault at Ben Franklin High, their right to simply use the bathroom.
They spend their days in schools and with educators who are under-resourced, broken down, and under attack.
Our students understand this, as do our parents and educators and communities.
What we don’t understand is how those in power refuse to see this system and the “solutions” it designs for our communities as inherently unequal, inequitable, and unjust, not to mention ineffective and destructive.
We struggle to understand how those in power consistently fail to recognize the funds of knowledge that our students, families, and communities possess, and which can be leveraged for collaborative, democratic efforts to transform our schools.
We can’t understand how the District systematically ignores the potential and power of the thousands of students, parents, educators, and citizens in over 200 school communities across dozens of neighborhoods in this city who are ready to do the work our schools need in partnership with the District.
Because we can’t understand this, we’re left to believe that the only explanation for this narrative is that those in power either don’t understand how this can be done differently, or they simply don’t care to do so.
The work of building relationships with communities that are based on trust, respect, and honor, in a District where these principles have traditionally been scarce commodities, is incredibly difficult work. It’s much easier to close or charter-ize schools that have been set up to fail.
The work of deprogramming the racism, classism, age-ism, and the many other prejudices that keep us from building those relationships and sharing power is scary and seemingly impossible.
It’s much easier to silence students, deny the expertise of parents, and ignore such topics in PD sessions.
The work of bringing all of us together to create schools that are democratic, community-centered, and which provide every citizen with an opportunity to become their best self is a challenge that seems insurmountable.
It’s much easier to pit us against each other and watch as we tear each other apart, or to stand idly by while those with more power than you do sow those seeds of conflict.
I challenge all of us to start doing what is right, not what is expedient.
We must do the hard work, and stop taking the easy way out.
Our children’s lives depend on it.