Two Teachers 4 :: The Video

• The video, “Occupy the DOE,” shows all, or most, of the October 25, 2011 meeting of the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), the governing body of the New York City Department of Education (DOE). Although it is interesting and informative in many ways, it is roughly made and is not accompanied by any voice-over commentary or “surtitles.” The following brief summary of its contents should help teachers and students to benefit from this activity.

• When the video begins, the meeting has not yet started. The officials and speakers are on the stage, talking casually to each other. (These include, Dennis Walcott, the Chancellor of the DOE, and the guest speaker, David Coleman.) The people attending the meeting — both the teachers and parents who have come to cause a disruption and others who have just come to hear the speakers — are sitting in their seats or standing around talking. A woman who is interviewed explains that David Coleman, a friend of Bill Gates, is the author of the “Common Core Curriculum Standards.” She also mentions one of the reasons why so many parents and teachers are opposed to this curriculum: the requirement that assigned reading must be at least 50% “informational.” The woman is interrupted by the beginning of the meeting: someone on the stage is speaking through a microphone; almost immediately a woman in the audience stands stands up and begins to speak using the “human microphone.” (The human microphone is the practice, made popular by the Occupy movement, of having the words of a speaker repeated by people standing nearby so that a speech can be heard by a large crowd. It was invented as a way of getting around police bans on amplified sound.)

• When the woman who begins the disruption finishes speaking, she is followed by other speakers. Each speaker begins by saying “Mic check, Mic check” and this is repeated by the others. (“Mic” is a common abbreviation for “microphone” and the phrase “mic check” is used when checking to see whether an electronic microphone is working properly.) The people on the stage try for a while to go ahead with their planned presentation, but soon they give up because the human microphone easily drowns out what they are saying. They leave the stage, walk slowly through the auditorium, and go upstairs to continue their meeting in another room. Some of the people in the audience follow them.

• Downstairs, the teachers and parents continue their own meeting. They take turns speaking, expressing their dissatisfaction with the Core Standards and other things such as increasing class sizes. Members of the audience show their approval of something a speaker says, not by clapping or shouting, but by holding up one hand and wiggling their fingers — the Occupy movement’s method of “mass communication” in large open spaces.

• After several more short speeches, one person — acting as a “facilitator” — suggests that a decision be made about what to do next. Should they leave? Should they stay where they are until everyone has had a chance to speak? Or should they follow the “officials” upstairs. After this question has been debated for a few minutes, it appears that the most popular idea is to let everyone speak who wants to and then to leave. The facilitator suggests an informal vote, which he calls a “temperature check.” The audience indicates its approval of the proposal with the usual hand signals — it seems that no one disagrees — and the facilitator loudly calls out “Consensus!” A few more short speeches follow and then everyone leaves. As they slowly walk through the crowd of policemen in the lobby, they chant, “This is what democracy looks like” and then, “Education is a right. Not only for the rich and white.” On the street outside, two of the teachers who spoke at the meeting, Joffer Smith and Marcelle Good, are interviewed and the video comes to an end.