The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may have to be wary. Badasses are gunning for them.
Bearing signs with slogans such as “Schoolchildren’s Dreams, Not Billionaire’s Schemes,” a few hundred fed-up teachers demonstrated Thursday night outside the Gates Foundation’s Seattle headquarters, alleging that the foundation is vilifying teachers while paving the way for a corporate takeover of education.
The protest was organized by the Washington branch of the Badass Teachers Association, a national group of teachers that claims to have over 48,000 members.
The group, which abbreviates itself BAT and evokes Batman imagery on its website, says that it “is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.”
At the rally, protesters expressed fierce opposition to most education reform efforts that have come about in recent decades. Targets included charter schools, vouchers and Common Core, as well as Teach for America, Race to the Top funding and the closure of failing schools.
Speakers and protesters said the real solution to educational shortcomings was more money for schools, in order to shrink class sizes and expand access to secondary programs such as art, music and physical education.
The Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest private foundations, has involved itself significantly in education reform in the past decade, spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting the Common Core, charter schools, merit pay for teachers and more. The protesters, who were decidedly to the political left, charged that the Foundation’s activism was actually just a cover for corporate interests that seek to profit from education.
Demonstrators heaped scorn not only on Gates and other business figures, but on both major political parties. The only politician at the event, Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party. Sawant declared in a speech that both major political parties had “completely failed us,” and said teachers were taking the blame for every problem in the educational system.
“They’re blaming teachers for everything. They’re going to blame teachers now for climate change,” she said. She countered that in reality, shortcomings in U.S. education reflected “the crisis in our capitalist system.”
The anti-corporate tone was shared by other speakers as well as the marchers at the protest. One speaker led the crowd in a rhyming chant of “Money for jobs and education, not for the Boeing Corporation!” As protesters marched, they carried a large sign urging Gates to “divest from corporate education.”
The Gates Foundation defended itself by saying that far from ignoring teachers, it incorporates them heavily into its its work and its decisions for what policies to support. It was also careful to avoid attacking the intent of the protesters.
“We are engaged in a constant conversation with great teachers here in Washington State and all across the country about what they need to help all their students succeed and how we can best support them. While not all teachers agree on how best to make that happen, they are all dedicated and passionate about their students. We share that passion with the educators we work with every day,” Gates Foundation spokesman Chris Williams told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Badass activists aren’t the only people who have expressed deep distrust of the Gates Foundation’s intrest in education. Last March, the American Federation for Teachers, one of the two largest teacher unions in the United States, announced that it would no longer accept Gates Foundation donations for its Innovation Fund, due to opposition from rank-and-file members.
Activists plan further demonstrations in Washington going forward, with another protest planned for today at the University of Washington, according to the Seattle Times.
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