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When It Comes to Shaping Public Debate, What Can a Magazine Do?

"Education Uprising," the Spring issue of YES!, connected people across the country and helped catalyze the movement to reclaim education—a living example of how national conversations can change.
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Can a magazine change the conversations going on in communities and even a nation? At YES! we believe it can, when the ideas in the magazine support an incipient cultural shift and an emerging social movement.

Education Uprising,” the Spring issue of YES!, is a striking example. It is helping readers and movement leaders counter the dominant narrative about our public schools.

Over the past 30 years political and business interests have pushed the story that our public schools are failing and poor teaching is the reason. They say teachers must be held accountable through standardized testing, and public schools should be privatized. It’s become the standard wisdom.

"Education Uprising" questions every aspect of that narrative. And it provides a counterstory: The vast majority of our public schools are succeeding. Many do struggle with a lack of resources and must help children who suffer the effects of extreme poverty. Nevertheless, most of our teachers do a remarkable job. The push for constant testing, even of kindergarteners, drives out the creativity that is the soul of teaching and the spark of learning. There are better ways to use the energy of our teachers and students.

After we published "Education Uprising," we heard from many readers who were excited to see an account more in line with their own experience. They disagreed with the denigration of public school teachers, the increased use of standardized tests, and the push for school privatization. But they'd seen little in other media that supported
their views. The YES! issue validated their concerns and gave them courage to speak out. Many readers purchased multiple copies to give to school board members, teachers, and other parents.

The magazine, together with the work of many organized groups, helped connect different parts of an emerging teachers’ rebellion against high-stakes testing. Jesse Hagopian, a leader in that movement, distributed 400 copies to educators and others standing up for change. He told us the YES! issue “really connected people across the country and catalyzed the movement to reclaim education for students, parents, and teachers. It helped people feel less isolated, that they were part of something bigger
than just their city, than just their state.”

Many of you donated, enabling us to give free copies of the magazine to leaders like Hagopian. Thank you.

And thanks to all who are sharing our education articles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. As other sites have reposted our articles, many have forwarded them. When the online news aggregator Common Dreams posted YES! Executive Editor Dean Paton’s article “The Myth Behind Public School Failure,” it became the site’s most read and most emailed article for the week.

Now, as courageous teachers build the momentum of this movement, other media are spotlighting it. Bill Moyers posted YES! articles on his website as he began his series on the problems with high-stakes testing. Recently, he interviewed Diane Ravitch, now an outspoken opponent of the very policies she helped craft in the “No Child Left Behind” law.

Garfield High photo by Betty Udesen
These Seattle Teachers Boycotted Standardized Testing—and Sparked a Nationwide Movement

NBC’s Today show featured a long-term Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who quit because such testing “took the joy out of teaching and learning.”

As media cover the issue, more Americans feel ready to question the dominant narrative. This emboldens more teachers and parents to resist the mounting use of standardized tests and the growing privatization of our schools. Their actions attract more media attention and more questioning of the standard wisdom.

This is how a national conversation can change.

A magazine can indeed help change conversations in communities and a nation. At YES! we are glad to contribute to shifts such as this one.


Fran KortenFran Korten wrote this article for The Power of Story, the Summer 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Fran is publisher of YES!

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