Today is my birthday. I am 78 years old. I was born at 12:05 a.m. in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, to Walter and Ann Silvers. I was their third child. Five more would follow. Eventually we were five boys and three girls. My dad was born in Savannah and dropped out of high school. My mother was born in Bessarabia, came to the U.S. at age 9, and graduated from the Houston public schools, one of the proudest achievements of her life. She prided herself on her perfect English. She was an American and a Texan.
I went to the Houston public schools from kindergarten to high school graduation. None of the schools I attended still exists, at least not in the same form. I went to Montrose Elementary School (now the Houston High School of the Performing Arts), then my family moved to another part of Houston and I enrolled in fifth grade in Sutton Elementary School (not sure if it still exists). I went to the neighborhood junior high school, Albert Sidney Johnston Jr. High, named for a Confederate hero. Then to San Jacinto High School (now Houston Community College). I may have had a few great teachers. Mostly I had pretty good teachers or good teachers, who worked very hard to do their best. I don’t remember any “bad” teachers. The Houston public schools were segregated during my time there (I graduated in 1956). I thought that was wrong, I read about the Brown decision, and I spoke to our high school principal, Mr. Brandenburg about it. I asked him why we didn’t obey the court. He sympathized but said that if the schools desegregated, a lot of good black principals and teachers would lose their jobs. There was also the matter of the school board, which changed every two years; every other election produced a board dominated by Minute Women and John Birchers who thought the UN was a Communist organization and such groups as the NAACP and Urban League were pinkos. They totally opposed any desegregation.
My Houston public education was good enough to get me admitted to a wonderful Ivy League college: Wellesley. I was friends with Nora Ephron, later a celebrated screenwriter, and Madeline Korbel (later Albright); we worked on the college newspaper together. Class of 1960, nine years before Hillary graduated.
Many decades have passed. Now the body is giving out; the knees don’t work well. One was totally replaced, the other probably should have been. But mentally, I feel like 35 or 40.
For my daily efforts, blogging and writing, at no pay, I am regularly called a “shill” for the unions, they say I sold my soul for “union gold.” Ha! It happened this week on Twitter. This is nonsense. I am 78 years old, and I do and say what I believe. My views are the product of a lifetime of experience and study. No one can buy me. I don’t want a job, a grant, or money. The only good thing about growing old is that your ambitions are put into check. There is nothing that I want of a material nature. I have noticed that the folks in the corporate reform movement seem to think that everyone has a price, everyone is motivated by greed. I am not. I am financially independent. I am free to say what I want. And I do.
I won’t ramble on, but I want to ask you a favor. Since 2010, I have devoted my waking hours to fighting privatization and defending public schools, their students, and their teachers.
If you want to do something for me other than say “happy birthday” (which is also nice), please join and/or make a gift of any size to theNetwork for Public Education or the NPE Action Fund, which engages in political action. I co-founded these groups with Anthony Cody, and we hope NPE will be the meeting place for all those who are sick of attacks on public schools and teachers, for all those who want to sing the praises of a great democratic public education system that is required by law to provide equal opportunity for all students. We want a transformation, not the status quo. We want great schools for every child, not just for the few. And we won’t tolerate the naysayers who pick on the people, institutions, and values we hold dear.
And if you have the time and resources to join me, come to Washington on Friday, July 8, for the Save Our Schools March. Walk arm in arm with your friends and allies.
Together we will prevail. I will use my energy to make that happen, to win over public opinion. I can’t do it without you. That’s my goal for my next birthday.