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Defending public education in Canada and throughout the Americas

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Steve Stewart. He is the technical secretary for the Initiative for Democratic Education in the Americas, also known as the IDEA Network, which brings together organizations from across the hemisphere that are committed to defending and enhancing public education.

You can make a case that all struggle is local. No matter the issue, no matter the strategy, no matter how many other people and places and groups are also involved, the actual doing of it always comes down to you and those you are immediately with, in whatever circumstance you find yourselves, making choices and taking action. Still, while some struggles are only local, most are either already broader in scope, or could be if people had the opportunity and will to come together across difference and distance to do the work of making common cause.

Take, for example, the education sector. No matter what jurisdiction you live in, the last twenty years have no doubt seen your school system face some or even all of the following: cuts; at least partial privatization, whether that is direct or through the reallocation of resources away from the public system and towards non-public alternatives in less visible ways; rhetorical attacks on teachers; legal attacks on teachers' collective bargaining rights; the imposition of standardized testing and other pedagogically dubious corporate-backed changes that get touted as "reforms"; and various other manifestations of the cut/privatize/deregulate agenda captured by the term "neoliberalism." At various times and in various places, teachers, parents, and students in different places have all acted to oppose this agenda -- unfortunately, it's not uncommon for these groups to be dividied in all sorts of ways (often because of debliberate efforts to keep them apart by those trying to impose this agenda), but sometimes they succeed in working together and forging a common resistance.

The IDEA Network emerged in the late 1990s out of precisely this recognition of common threats to public education spanning not one or two jurisdictions, but all of North, Central, and South America. The network "brings together organizations that share a commitment to protecting and improving public education," particularly teachers' organizations and students' organizations, and also encompasses a network of education researchers and a network of Indigenous educators. In the moment of its founding, the main threat to public education in this hemisphere took the form of negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would have, among other things, opened the door to the neoliberal restructuring of education systems from Canada to Chile. In those years, mobilizing against the FTAA both directly and at various international gatherings formed the centre of the network's work. Since the defeat of that agreement, attacks on public education have not abated but have become less centralized, so the IDEA Network has focused on research, on sharing resources and strategies among members for defending public education in their respective contexts, and on mobilizing solidarity actions when member organizations are facing repression or crisis. In the Canadian context, a number of teachers unions have been involved at various points, and occasionally student groups, but the main force behind it in this country has been the British Columbia Teachers Federation, which has a long and remarkable history of international solidarity work. Stewart talks about the ongoing, hemisphere-wide threats to public education, and about the work of the IDEA Network to support struggles to defend it.

To learn more about the IDEA Network, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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