Category Archives: Blast from the Past

Song of the — Martin Luther King Jr — Day

Kings Marching in Selma Neighborhood

Solomon Burke — “Now Is The Time” (click to listen or download)

See also “Quotes of the  — Martin Luther King Jr. — Day.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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John Dewey on comparing students — Blast from the Past/Quote of the Day

Sly & the Family Stone, ” Everyday People” (click to listen or download).

How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.

John Dewey

Democracy and Education, 1916

The current “accountability” madness is almost all based on misusing metrics of questionable value to make comparisons among students, among teachers, among schools, among districts, among nations (see here and here for two recent manifestations).  If we are going to be “holding people accountable,” I’d prefer the metric be whether they are providing all students with the “opportunities to employ his [or her] own powers in activities that have meaning.”

Related:  National Opportunity to Learn Campaign and Opportunity to Learn Wisconsin.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Labor Day Blast from the Past: Samuel Gompers on Public Education

The New York Times, September 4, 1910. Click image for pdf.

For the Chicago Teacher’s Union: Elaine Purkey – “One Day More” (click to listen and download)

Excerpts from a speech given to the 1916 Convention of the National Education Association, “The Public Schools and the Working Man,” (full speech linked).  Gompers was followed by John Dewey on the program!

From the introduction:

On the schools, the labor movement and combating inequality:

On the role of teachers in the maintenance of a “truly American spirit”:

On Vocational Education (more here):

On Lifelong learning:On teachers in the labor movement:

Closing thoughts:

Powerful and important ideas.

For those in Madison, please join the celebration of Labor Day at LaborFest, September 3, 12:00 Noon to 5:30, at the Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St (poster/flier linked here).  Good music, good food, good people, good idea.

Previous AMPS Labor Day posts:

Labor Day Mega Music Post.

Happy Labor Day!

Margaret Haley: A Heroine of Education, Labor, Feminism and Politics.

This is the third in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  The series is devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, Blast from the Past, Contracts, education, Equity, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Quote of the Day, Take Action, Uncategorized, Vocationalism

Vocational Education and the Voices of Workers: Blast from the Past #2

Rocky Mountain News, 15 October, 1896.

The Clash – “Career Opportunities” (click to listen or download).

This is the second in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  The series is devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.  Today’s is about education, work and vocational education.  There is so much going on in this area, especially here in Wisconsin, that I am sure there will be future posts, Blasts from the Past, and others.   Today I just want to look at the how the voices of workers (and to a lesser extent teachers and students) were present and are now absent in discussion and governance of Vocational Education.  Rebecca Kemble at the Progressive has been doing an amazing job covering this in Wisconsin; see these articles to catch up:

“Wis. Committee Says High Schools Need to Serve Business.”

“The Corporate Rot Eats Away at Wisconsin.”

“Walker’s Workforce Czar Wants to Make It More Expensive to Get a Second Degree.”

Cronyism and Corruption Define Walker’s Reign.”

In 1911, Wisconsin passed a pioneering Vocational Education law.  It was far from perfect, but in two places the law made sure that in making public provision for explicitly preparing students for employment our state was not simply turning education over to businesses and employers.  This was done by guaranteeing that labor had an equal voice in the programs that were created.  On the state Board:

and on local Boards:

This has not been the case with the recent planning for expanding vocationalism in Wisconsin public education.

There are three state groups working to expand vocationalisn:  The Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School, The Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, and The [Governor’s] College and Workforce Readiness Council.  The first has 19 members including 4 representatives of business and none from labor.  The second has 44 members, at least 23 from business (including the Widow Hendricks of “divide and conquer” fame, and two from labor unions (both from unions that have been relatively supportive of  Scott Walker’s agenda).  I can’t find a member list for the last (how’s that for open governance?).  The proclamation creating the Council called for 15 members  with one representing employees and two from employers.  The news release announcing Scott Walker’s appointments lists three business people and no workers.

The never-been-elected-to-anything, Walker appointee, Special Consultant to the Governor on Economic, Workforce and Education Development,  dissembling Tim Sullivan heads the last two and you can see the details of the plans for education (and more) in Wisconsin in the recent report issued by him.

The Career Academies in the initial Madison Metropolitan School District Achievement Gaps Plan (now on hold),  seem to have been planned with no role or contemplated future role for labor, but much input from employers and business organizations.  This despite the record of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce run Youth Apprenticeship Program’s record of doing fine spending MMSD money, but not so well serving our students.

Preparation for employment is certainly one function of public education, but in 1911 and in 2012, it is far from the only function.  As Wisconsin recognized over 100 years ago, allowing business to dominate this or any part of public education increased the risk that vocationalism would dominate, that the interests of employers would be put above the interests of students and workers.  By providing formal roles fro labor to balance the interests of business, in 1911 Wisconsin attempted to make sure that vocational education empowered students and future employees via an education that gave them broad knowledge and flexible skills, and that vocational programs did not simply become employee training done at the expense of taxpayers.  In 2012 we need to heed that lesson.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, Blast from the Past, education, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, Scott Walker, Uncategorized, Vocationalism

(Past) Time for education profiteers to take a walk: Blast from the Past #1

“JUST ABOUT TIME HE TOOK A WALK!.,” original caption, The American School Board Journal, July 1921.

The O’ Jays – “For The Love Of Money” (click to listen or download)

This is the first in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  It will be devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.  I’ll usually  also post some links to recent, related things and often a song too.  I’m a historian by training, so I feel compelled to say that historical analogs should always be carefully examined, developments in the past are never identical to developments in the present.  Both continuity and change should be assessed.  In this series the emphasis will be on continuity, but I realize that’s only part of the picture.

The inspiration for this series came earlier this week when I stumbled upon full volumes of the American School Board Journal in Google Books.  For my dissertation research I went page-by-page through over 30 years of that journal, I know these will provide much material for this series, but I’ll also be looking for other sources.

Some links on educational profiteers in 2012 (so many possible that I am just posting a handful of links).

Just the tip of the iceberg.  Well past time for them to take a walk.
Thomas J. Mertz

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Happy Labor Day!

The Labor Day extravaganza starts with a lengthy excerpt from the1886 Platform of the Knights of Labor.  It is a good reminder that the sruggle has been going on for a long time.


The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses. It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulation, and the power for evil of aggregated wealth. This much-desired object can be accomplished only by the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

Therefore we have formed the Order of the Knights of Labor, for the purpose of organizing and directing the power of the industrial masses, not as a political party, for it is more — in it are crystalized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people, but it should be borne in mind, when exercising the right of suffrage, that most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and that it is the duty of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes only such candidates as will pledge their support to these measures, regardless of party. But no one shall, however, be compelled to vote with the majority, and calling upon all who believe in securing the greatest good to the greatest number, to join and assist us.

Declaration of Principles

We declare to the world that our aims are:

1. To make industrial and moral worth, not wealth, the true standard of individual and national greatness.

2. To secure to the worker the full enjoyment of the wealth they create, sufficient leisure in which to develop their intellectual, moral and social faculties; all of the benefits, recreation and pleasures of association; in a word, to enable them to share in the gains and honors of advancing civilization.

Next up is a reminder to attend the South Central Federation of Labor LaborFest, at the Labor Temple (Park and Wingra).  Lots of good people, activities for all ages, good food and drink and music from Mel Ford and Paul Cebar and the Milwaukeeans.  You can download a flier here.

While on the topic of reminders, the pending bill requiring that labor history be taught in Wisconsin schools could use your support. Find out more here and also check out the other great things that the Wisconsin Labor History Society has to offer.

Last, that labor classic “I’m Sticking with the Union” as performed by a stellar cast at Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday concert.

Last year’s Labor Day post, with more music and history can be found here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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FDR 1938 Speech to the NEA

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s June 1938 speech to the National Education Association (hat tip, Crooks and Liars).

Full text here; some excerpts:

We have believed wholeheartedly in investing the money of all the people on the education of the people. That conviction, backed up by taxes and dollars, is no accident, for it is the logical application of our faith in democracy.


Here is where the whole problem of education ties in definitely with natural resources and the economic picture of the individual community or state. We all know that the best schools are, in most cases, located in those communities which can afford to spend the most money on them—the most money for adequate teachers’ salaries, for modern buildings and for modern equipment of all kinds. We know that the weakest educational link in the system lies in those communities which have the lowest taxable values, therefore, the smallest per capita tax receipts and, therefore, the lowest teachers’ salaries and most inadequate buildings and equipment. We do not blame these latter communities. They want better educational facilities, but simply have not enough money to pay the cost.

There is probably a wider divergence today in the standard of education between the richest communities and the poorest communities than there was one hundred years ago; and it is, therefore, our immediate task to seek to close that gap—not in any way by decreasing the facilities of the richer communities but by extending aid to those less fortunate. We all know that if we do not close this gap it will continue to widen, for the best brains in the poor communities will either have no chance to develop or will migrate to those places where their ability will stand a better chance.

Make them listen to this in Madison and in Washington.

Thomas J. Mertz


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Margaret Haley: A Heroine of Education, Labor, Feminism and Politics

“Educate in order that your children may be free.”

Irish Proverb often quoted by Margaret Haley.

“Only through the freedom of their teachers could the children remain free.”

Margaret Haley, ca 1899.

Margaret Haley is one of my heroes.  She was a woman of great ideals who acted on these ideals and accomplished much.  She began as an underpaid elementary school classroom teacher, with no job security and subject to the whims of her supervisors. To win protections, security and respect for the mostly female elementary school teachers, she organized the Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF).  She led the affiliation of the CTF with the Chicago Federation of Labor and fully participated in the radical world of turn-of-the-century labor politics in that city.  She was the first woman to speak at a National Education Association meeting where her 1904 talk “Why Teachers Should Organize” scandalized the conservative, professor-and-administrator-dominated organization.  She helped secure the passage of Illinois’ Woman’s School Suffrage law, which like those in about 30 other states and territories granted women limited suffrage and office-holding rights for school related elections and posts.  She was a fighter; her autobiography is titled Battleground and she was dubbed a “lady labor slugger.” You can see why she is one of my heroes.

Perhaps her finest hour was the 1900 “tax fight.”  When the Board of Education pled poverty and failed to pay hard-fought-for raises to the teachers in the CTF.  In order to remedy the situation, Haley led a team that researched and then sued to secure back taxes totaling over $600,000 from major utility and street car companies; money that the politicians were not interested in collecting.  This was more than enough to pay for the raises.  At about the same time she exposed sweetheart and (tax free) lease arrangements of School District property with major Chicago businesses, including the Chicago Tribune.  The courts refused to find wrong in the Tribune case, but Haley had many successes fighting for education against corporate power and the politicians who protected that power.

For more on Haley, see:

Citizen Teacher, by Kate Rousmaniere.

Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret Haley (edited by Robert L. Reid).

“Margaret Haley calls for teachers to organize,” History of Education, Selected Moments in the 20th Century.

Margaret Haley (1861-1939) – Early Career, The Chicago Teachers Federation, American Federation of Teachers, Politics, Haley’s Contribution, by Kate Rousmaniere.

Encyclopedia of World Biography on Margaret A. Haley.

“Being Margaret Haley, Chicago, 1903,” by Kate Rousmaniere.

Happy Labor Day

Check out the LaborFest (1602 S. Park, 12:00-5:30), great atmosphere, great music, good food, cold beer, fun for the kids.  I’ll be there, both to celebrate with my family and friends and to promote the November MMSD referendum with CAST.  Come and raise a glass to Margaret Haley and others worth honoring.

Some Labor Day Music Videos:

“Union Maid,” Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie

“Salt of the Earth,” The Rolling Stones

“There is Power in a Union,” Billy Bragg

Thomas J. Mertz


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