Back in 1995 when I was competing my MA at the University of Guelph, I was interested in looking more closely at the commercialization of public education. Maude Barlow gave me a name: George Martell.
I phoned him from my tiny apartment on Glasgow Ave. We exchanged ideas, and I followed up on some of his suggestions for further reading, many of which which made an appearance in my thesis. It was also my introduction to Our Schools / Our Selves, which became part of my regular roster of reference materials, especially after I was hired by Bruce Campbell to head up CCPA’s Education Project in 1997.
So it seemed quite serendipitous when, in 1999, several of us sat down to talk with George Martell and Satu Repo about how CCPA could become the publisher of Our Schools/ Our Selves, with Satu and myself as co-editors. George and the dedicated circle of educators, researchers and activists who had been involved with the magazine since its inception back in 1988 (even longer if you count This Magazine is About Schools)—David Clandfield, Bob Davis, Doug Little, Larry Kuehn, Tim McCaskell, Claire Polster, Rebecca Coulter, Salim Vally, Grace Edward Galabuzi, Kari Delhi, Harry Smaller—would continue to be involved with occasional issues and dedicated special collections. And as the years went on, the education debates continued, and neoliberal attacks grew more pronounced, the circle of supporters and contributors continued to expand
Over the next few years, George continued to write, edit, and research for OS/OS on a variety of topics: streaming in schools, privatization of education, class analysis, democratic classrooms. He recruited authors to write for the magazine, and helped coordinate and contribute to several OS/OS special collections, including Education's Iron Cage and Its Dismantling, Breaking the Iron Cage: Resistance to the Schooling of Global Capitalism, The School as Community Hub: Beyond Education’s Iron Cage, and Restacking the Deck: Streaming by class, race and gender in Ontario schools.
But beyond OS/OS, his dedication to a system of public education that serves all kids and communities well, that is committed to critical thinking, compassion and a thoughtful interrogation of power, was unwavering. And, it turns out, prophetic: public education once again finds itself in the sites of cost-cutting governments in Ontario and elsewhere, and kids, educators, education workers and communities are organizing to push back, knowing all too well what’s at risk.
George—in his multiple roles as activist, academic, writer and mentor—always managed to be steadfast and, simultaneously, ahead of the curve.
We at the CCPA are saddened to hear of George’s recent passing, and on a personal note I will miss his periodic phone calls and voicemails (“Erika: hi. It’s George Martell. I’ve come across a thoughtful collection of articles that I think has tremendous resonance....”). His instincts about the next debate to which we could contribute were always uncannily timely, and I learned early on to pay attention to his musings and reflections.
This summer we are planning to digitize the entire collection of back issues of OS/OS, making them available to a much wider audience. George was very excited when I mentioned this to him some time ago. I am so happy we’re able to make this a priority as the education debates continue, and as his dedication to the best that public education has to offer becomes even more relevant. His work,and ours, continues.
We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Rest in power, George.
Erika Shaker is Director of Education and Outreach at the CCPA, and Editor of Our Schools / Our Selves. Follow her on Twitter at @ErikaShaker.