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morna mcdermott

Morna McDermott of United Opt Out, an Associate Professor at Towson University, Maryland

When people decide to resist unjust policies that have overwhelming support and for which there are few antecedents in their lifetime, mast movements do not erupt overnight. They are often inspired by the accumulation of individual acts of protest, taken at great risk. One of the best examples of this is the lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement, which began when four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to challenge segregation in their downtown business district, sparking a movement in scores of cities that eventually encompassed more than 35,000 protesters and led to the creation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee(SNCC).

We can also see this occurring during the Vietnam War, where one of the most powerful dimensions of a movement which began with teach-ins, rallies, and marches, was draft resistance, individuals refusing induction into the military, and risking imprisonment for their actions. This form of protest, which began in 1966 when there was a dramatic escalation of the use of US ground forces in the fighting, became one of the most powerful weapons the anti-war movement had to awaken the conscience of the nation, as tens of thousands of young men around the nation went to prison, or into exile, to show their opposition to a war they believed was profoundly immoral.

Today, I see something similar happening with the phenomenon of Opting Out -- parents refusing to let their children take tests that they view as stultifying and humiliating -- or students deciding to engage in test refusal themselves. As high-stakes tests have proliferated in our public schools, and are increasingly used as the basis of closing schools and firing teachers, more and more people despair of challenging policies that have bi-partisan support, are championed by the media, have the nation's economic elite pressing for their implementation.

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Facing this kind of political juggernaut, which infuses its policies with an air of inevitability, individual acts of resistance have tremendous weight. Parents who have publicly refused to let their children take tests, in the face of threats from school authorities, though initially small in number, have sparked a "prairie fire" around the nation, resulting in the creation of a national organization -- United Opt Out -- that has become the major focal point of grassroots protest against Corporate Education Reform.

Now, you can find opt-out groups, and centers of test resistance, in almost every state of the union, and their example is gradually encouraging teachers, principals, and students to join the ranks of test protesters. Even some elected officials are starting to get the message and championing the cause of reducing testing.

But this is only the beginning. In the next few years, test resistance is likely to gather so much steam that it will force a significant re-evaluation -- at the national, state and local level -- of policies that are making teachers hate their jobs, students hate school, and parents hate sending them there. But this requires constant mobilization, creative organizing and the multiplication of individual acts of courage and resistance. It also involves local organizing that links test resisters to labor unions, religious institutions, and remnants of the Occupy movement in every town and city in the nation, and in presenting test resistance as a path to democratic renewal from the bottom up, fighting policies from the top down.

mark naison

Mark Naison
With A Brooklyn Accent

Wednesday, 3 April 2013