#RedforEd Founder Promoting ‘Teacher Agency’ in Politics to Academia

Music teacher Noah Karvelis, center, who helped organize Arizona Educators United, speaks at a news conference at the Esperanza Elementary School in Isaac School District speaking on teacher pay and school funding Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Phoenix. Arizona teachers are scheduled to go on strike Thursday. (AP Photo/Ross D. …
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The founder of the #RedforEd movement is now promoting “next-generation” political teacher activism to academics in graduate schools of education around the country in order to further advance a socialist agenda in the United States.

Noah Karvelis — who launched the #RedforEd movement in Arizona when he was 23 years old in March of 2018 — is now a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

In November, the BerkeleyReviewofEducation, “a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal that engages issues of educational diversity and equity from various cognitive, developmental, sociohistorical, linguistic, and cultural perspectives … edited by students from the Graduate School of Education at the University of California,” that is part of the American Educational Research Association, a 25,000 member professional organization of college faculty, administration, and researchers, published his left-wing political call to action for all teachers, titled “Towards a Theory of Teacher Agency: Conceptualizing the Political Positions and Possibilities of Teacher Movements.”

As Breitbart News reported in February:

A well-funded and subversive leftist movement of teachers in the United States threatens to tilt the political balance nationwide in the direction of Democrats across the country as Republicans barely hang on in key states that they need to hold for President Donald Trump to win re-election and for Republicans to have a shot at retaking the House and holding onto their Senate majority.

This teachers union effort, called #RedforEd, has its roots in the very same socialism that President Trump vowed in his 2019 State of the Union address to stop, and it began in its current form in early 2018 in a far-flung corner of the country before spreading nationally. Its stated goals–higher teacher pay and better education conditions–are overshadowed by a more malevolent political agenda: a leftist Democrat uprising designed to flip purple or red states to blue, using the might of a significant part of the education system as its lever.

The #RedforEd movement scored a number of political successes around the country in 2019.

In January 2020, Education Minnesota, the 80,000-member public schools teachers union there, became the first teachers union in the state to drop the pretense that the goals of local #RedforEd groups were somehow separate from the organized teachers unions and that they had any interest in advancing any political agenda rather than the defeat of President Donald Trump and Republican candidates in 2020, as Breitbart News reported:

The #RedforEd teachers’ movement confirmed it is a purely political movement designed to help elect Democrats and stop the re-election of President Donald Trump in 2020. The teachers union in the key battleground state of Minnesota announced it will hold a three-day summit beginning on January 31 to train teachers how to harness their “collective power to defeat Trumpism in 2020 and win a public education system in 2021 that can prevent Trumpism for the next generation.”

“The announcement made no mention of the need to improve test scores of Minnesota’s K-12 public school students, which have been declining for several years,” Breitbart News noted.

Despite some notable political successes since the founding of the #RedforEd movement in 2018, Karvelis appears unsatisfied with the pace of its transformational progress as it has become absorbed by the more established national teachers unions.

In the abstract of his academic paper outlining more effective ways to turn teachers into a permanent political army to advance the cause of socialism, Karvelis lamented the political influences that, in his view, still limit the #RedforEd movement’s ability to achieve its social justice objectives:

In response to a need for increased engagement given the #RedForEd movement, this article draws upon my experience as an organizer and participant in the recent wave of teacher activism to provide implications for theories of teacher agency and political transformation.

First, I conceptualize the Arizona #RedForEd movement’s unique position beyond the state’s logics of political power, considering the possibilities that such a position created for teacher-activists in Arizona.

I then confront the decreasing power of the movement in order to demonstrate the need for increased theorizations of the reflexive capacities of institutionalized power structures to sustain oppositional education social movements.

I consider the recent history of the RedForEd movement with the hope of forwarding renewed considerations of political transformation, power, and teacher agency, which can inform movements that challenge the hegemonic limits placed upon social-justice-oriented movement work. [Emphasis added]

Now just 25 years old, Karvelis played a key role in launching the #RedforEd movement in Arizona two years ago. At the time, the 2016 Bernie Sanders supporter was a second-year elementary school teacher of hip hop music committed to a full-blown socialist political agenda, as Breitbart News reported:

Ostensibly focused on better pay for teachers, the real objective of the #RedforEd movement, as expressed by its young founder at the Socialism 2018 conference held in Chicago this July, is to obtain political power to advance a socialist agenda.

“We’ve created an organization now. We have a network of 2,000 leaders who are experienced. They’ve been out on a job action. They’ve organized their campuses. They’ve collected signatures for a ballot initiative,” Karvelis said in his 13 minute speech to an estimated 1,800 fellow socialists from around the country, a number of whom were also teachers. (Beginning at the 11:00 minute mark of the video of his speech found at this KFYI webpage.

“We’ve built a new political power in Arizona and it’s taking control right now of the future of the state,” Karvelis added.

“We have to build our own political power. We have to build our own organization. We have to stay true to our values. They have to be Democratic,” the young socialist teacher concluded.

After three years as a public school teacher in Arizona, Karvelis resigned to pursue a Ph.d. at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in May of 2019, where he has continued to develop his concepts of turning teachers into a permanent political army.

In his peer-reviewed academic paper, Karvelis set forward three main conclusions.

“First, it is important that education scholars and activists recognize the dynamic possibilities of occupying the neutral, fluid spaces that exist beyond standard structures of political power,” he argued:

Arizona’s movement began in this space as a nebulous, flexible entity that was capable of democratic membership engagement and large mobilizations, which could exploit the rapidly shifting openings in power. And Arizona is by no means an exception in accomplishing this, as similar groups across the United States have as well. Successful cases can also be seen in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and numerous other states where social media spaces have offered a form of teacher organizing beyond unions, official leadership, and political parties.

“Second, it is important to simultaneously recognize that although these movements were successful at initially occupying these spaces and exploiting perceived openings in political power structures, they were ultimately worked back within the dominant political logic and historical tendencies of social movements in Arizona,” he continued:

This tendency limited the possibilities of the movement while simultaneously allowing established political structures to respond, removing openings within power and eliminating the potential for further, large-scale successes. Again, we saw common patterns in Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, such as the tensions between Oklahoma’s grassroots activists and union leaders and the bitter end to their strike … West Virginia activists defeated a school privatization bill twice, and then lost the very same battle a few months later …

All of these efforts attest to the reflexive abilities of power structures. We have also seen new organizations drift towards institutionalization as leadership becomes defined, political identities are developed, and claims to the neutral space they once occupied are rendered illegitimate.

“Finally, there is a clear implication for scholars and movement activists to study the tactics that #RedForEd uses to assess wins and losses of the movement and also to also theorize the reflexivity of power structures and political logics used to understand, respond to, and constrain the recent teacher movements,” he noted.

“As a result, we can begin to develop new theories of teacher agency, power, and transformation in the United States. Better understanding these forces and possibilities will allow us to challenge the limitations of hegemonic power and the confines of past movements in order to create bold, new approaches to political praxis and transformation,” Karvelis concluded.

If Karvelis succeeds in popularizing his desire to “challenge the limitations of hegemonic power” and “create bold, new approaches to political praxis and transformation” among the academic education establishment, the partisan political nature of the #RedforEd movement during the 2020 election is likely to intensify significantly in subsequent elections.

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