Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Injury to One is An Injury to All

The ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) shut down the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco yesterday in solidarity with the family of Oscar Grant, who was killed by BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle. Grant was unarmed and laying face down when Mehserle stood over him and opened fire. In a typical travesty of justice, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, arguing that he had meant to fire his Taser. Mehserle is white. Grant was black.

ILWU members were joined by teachers, nurses, city workers and other unionists. Teachers, you ask? What does this have to do with education?

Everyone has an interest in justice.

As times get tougher economically and our civil liberties and freedoms grow thinner and weaker, it becomes more important than ever to support our brothers and sisters, neighbors and fellow workers in shows of solidarity. After all, just because it wasn’t me this time, doesn’t mean it won’t be me next time.

Protesters carried picket signs that said, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” The implications of this fundamental principle of solidarity should be obvious to teachers.

When pay or benefits are cut, it becomes harder to recruit and retain the best teachers. This is harmful to our students. When budgets are balanced by firing teachers, class sizes go up, programs are cut, and students suffer. When the feds force schools to convert to charter schools, cut funding, or impose curriculum, teachers are forced to do more with less resources and time. This causes both teachers and students to feel overworked and stressed.

Cuts to welfare, drug rehab, mental health services and housing all have profound effects on families. They increase uncertainty and anxiety, and cause children to come to school hungry, tired, sick, ill-prepared, and sometimes ill-behaved. Test scores and graduation rates correlate more closely with wealth than any other variable. Therefore, poverty and the disintegrating safety net are education issues.

Militarism causes some parents to go abroad and not be at home for their children. War increases the anxiety and stress some children bring to school. However, all children are affected by the trillions of dollars wasted on murdering civilians in other countries, money that would be much better spent providing housing, healthcare and better equipped schools for our own children. Therefore, militarism and war are education issues.

The foreclosure crisis has thrown families and children into the streets, shelters, floors and couches of friends and family. Bailing out Wall Street bankers allows the top 1% to continue to earn more than the bottom 120 million of us combined, but it comes at a price we will all have to pay. The wealthy are demanding a reduction to the deficit and they are unwilling to pay for it themselves, which means more cuts to social services and increased taxes for the rest of us. Therefore, the foreclosure crisis and bailouts of the filthy rich are education issues.

How can educators join together with other unions and movements to fight for their collective interests when we are all so overworked?

The solution is to do less at school. Just because someone says a new reform or curriculum will help students, doesn’t mean it will. We don’t have to pile more on our plates because our schools are in program improvement, under the NCLB gun, low income or low performing. When we try to be everything to everyone we become more stressed and burned out, and less effective as teachers. If a reform seems sound and worth undertaking, we need to sacrifice something else and not just add more to our already overloaded schedules. We need to carefully assess new reforms and not just accept them uncritically. Consider costs versus benefits. Analyze the data, if any exist, and consider whether it really stands a chance. How many students will benefit? How much will they benefit? We need to stop buying into the bogus argument that even if test scores don’t improve, it is good pedagogy and still worth implementing, or that even if it is designed to help one small subset of our students it will really benefit them all. Maybe it will, but enough so that it justifies the extra time and labor?

No martyrs. No oppressors.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All

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