“Sisters are doing it for themselves,” as the old anthem goes and now they are doing it for everyone else. The overwhelmingly women led teachers strikes and protests that have taken place in a handful of states, have given us regular folks something to which to aspire. They have inspired us and reminded us that change is indeed possible.
And in doing so they have exposed the hypocrisy of a country commonly thought of as the wealthiest in the history of the world, which also brags about being the greatest in the world, but refuses to spend money and resources to take care of its youth.
Underpaid teachers, underpaid non- teaching staff and support staff, lack of supplies, substandard infrastructure, substandard schools, substandard funding, twenty-five year old textbooks, issues which make up the gist of the teachers complaints, exposes all the rhetoric as just that, empty words.
Education is not a priority in the US as the strikes so clearly expose.
Clearly the US educational system has little to do with real education. If a similar model was instituted in North Korea or Russia; the rulers would tell us it is State indoctrination, brain washing disguised as learning. But the requirement that children learn the pledge of allegiance is a clear form of indoctrination. After all,what does it have to do with education? If it’s not indoctrination, why is US education based on highlighting the glories of Western Civilization?
In other words, US education is story of the accomplishments and achievements of white people. How else does one explain the average citizen’s lack of knowledge of US bloody and brutal labor history, women’s history, the history of immigration, the evolution of “Whiteness,” Indian extermination, the truth about slavery, the Reconstruction, the Terror ( the epoch of public lynchings 1870-1950) and the list goes on and on?
It is the educational system that teaches US citizens the” self- correcting” theory of US history. This view of history purports that conditions are sometimes bad, but enlightened rulers then work to change them from within. However the truth is that practically all change is forced from without.
In a sense, the teachers are working against this theory and their indoctrination, by working to correct the wrongs in public education by taking to the streets, which coincidentally is the way change has always been wrought and not through the voting booth. The action in the streets has always influenced the decisions in the suites, (those making the decisions so to speak) and not the reverse.
Ironically the teachers are fighting back in the so-called Orwellian sounding “right to work” states. The fact that the states, use these laws to deny teachers and public employees the right to strike, exposes the real reason for the laws. They are not there to protect workers from unions, but rather are in place to discourage workers from organizing. And of course being unionized is the best way to do that.
Revealing what’s really at stake, North Carolina Republican legislator Mark Brody called the women “Teacher Union thugs.” Anyone who stands up for public education and demands children and teachers get their fair share while demanding an end to the siphoning off of dollars and resources by the rich is indeed a thug in the eyes of the rich and powerful!
Moreover the strikes have proven to be didactic, as the educators through their demands and actions are modeling empathy. The public education system with its focus on competition, test taking and the concerns of Western Civilization does not teach children empathy, which explains the callous US adult population. “Public education for most children is a twelve year exercise in ethical emaciation,” is how Jonathan Kozol famous educator and public education critic put it.
In every state (West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and now North Carolina) in which educators have fought for better wages, better learning conditions and increased school funding, the laborers have also insisted that the non- teaching staff, including support staff be given raises and be treated fairly as well.
The teachers have demanded and fought for more and better books, school supplies, smaller classes, better and more buildings and more support staff including counselors and medicals staff, as it has become apparent (especially in poorer districts) that the young people come to school with more problems and needs than in earlier years.
And in West Virginia and Arizona, the teachers even had the foresight to look after their charges, while school was out because of their strikes. Teachers and supporters set up make shift feeding centers to help children who depend on the school lunch program for a meal.
In some cases, the women led movement had to end run their elected union leadership, because it had grown too cozy with the bureaucratic school apparatus and become too fearful and acquiescent. They have taken initiative activating their own sense of agency to fight for what they see is right.
And in taking their case to the streets teachers and their allies are reviving a sleeping labor movement and reminding us that, yes we are our sisters/brother’s keeper and we can indeed stand up and demand what we want.
The North Carolina teachers begun their fight earlier this week and May not get all they demand. All of the educators struggles for better pay and a just, equitable and quality public education system, have not met complete success, but they are reminding us that, ‘if we fight we can win.’
justice then peace