by Dan Rossi

A conversation has been brewing in recent years around public education—its benefits, its uses, its faults and its accessibility. However, it seems to some that there is a crucial voice missing from the conversation: the teachers.

“There’s nothing so important to any democracy other than a very vigorous and accessible public education system,” explained Interim Provost Sam L Grogg, Ph.D., to the full house in the Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom at the October 3, 2016, Finkelstein Lecture.

Marla Kilfoyle is a certified public schoolteacher and executive director of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), an organization dedicated to improving the quality and accessibility of schools throughout America.

Kilfoyle started her lecture by specifying that she didn’t want to lecture the audience; rather she wanted to start an engaging conversation.

“Corporate education reform has basically led to an all-out assault on our communities. Specifically, our communities of color,” she said, describing  the transformation of schools into profit-driven institutions that dehumanize teachers and students as “corporate education reform.”

“How did we come to this juncture?” Kilfoyle asked before inciting the audience to look to their neighbor for answers.

Kilfoyle, BATs and their supporters and colleagues believe that schools must redirect their attention away from test scores and profit and more toward individualized student success and nourishment.

The night saw an incredible turnout of over 250 students, faculty, staff and the community-at-large. After Kilfoyle’s lesson, attention was turned to a panel discussion that featured: Jamaal Bowman, founding principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School; Adrian Brooks M.A. ’08, a teacher at Bronx High School for Law and Community Service; Michael Hynes, Ed.D., superintendent of Patchogue-Medford School District; Adelphi Associate Professor of Sociology Deborah Little, Ph.D.; and Jen Wolfe, who teaches at Oceanside High School on Long Island. 

“This isn’t rocket science,” explained Hynes. His district–Patchogue-Medford School District is in Patchogue, Suffolk County–has doubled recess and brought play and physical activity back into the classroom—solutions that sound radical to some but have proven benefits and, he said, should be common sense. “The over-standardization of education and the hyper-focus on numbers and literacy minimizes the teacher profession, almost to the point where they’re considered unprofessional.”

The conference was sponsored by the Robert and Augusta P. Finkelstein Memorial Lecture. The Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society led by Laraine Wallowitz, Ph.D., associate professor, and Future Teachers Association led by  Brittany Willoughby, president, hosted the dinner reception and dessert mixer. 

The Finkelstein Memorial Lecture is dedicated to providing “a series of lectures by well-known persons recognized for their commitment to the elementary and secondary public school system.”

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