Education is primarily a state and local responsibility. The outrage during the Betsy DeVos hearings proved just how passionate we are about preserving public education, but that passion would be better directed toward state elections for legislators who create the policies that directly (and adversely) affect us. Up to 90% of the children in our district attend public schools, so this issue is important to us all.
One problem: Education policy is rarely made by those who know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the results. Our funding is often wasted on useless initiatives (e.g., standardized testing and punitive accountability measures) created by business interests. In addition, legislators who have never worked in a school system are more likely to cater to companies that see students as living, breathing profit margins. Teachers, though, have actually spent time with your children. We understand the daily realities of the system, and we know what is wasted and what is desperately needed. There are many reasons why public school teachers should have a role in the legislature, but let’s start with these three:
1) It’s Not Business: We’ve heard how the corporate education industry (mostly major foundations and hedge fund managers)wants to turn a fundamental democratic institution into a marketplace where they can monetize the schools and secure government subsidization. Unfortunately, this movement has persuaded some of our lawmakers, often with the help of expensive PR firms and appeals to religion and fiscal responsibility. To be clear, voucher systems don’t have any fiscal (or academic) accountability. A teacher at the Capitol will resist the mechanization of learning and the standardization of our children. A teacher also realizes that education is a public good worthy of our collective funds. We can spot and work to stop wasteful initiatives while protecting the positive aspects of the system.
2) It’s Science: Some of the same folks pushing privatization also bankroll organizations that oppose teaching facts about evolution, climate change, and history. Louisiana’s voucher program, currently the most sweeping in the country, lacks the accountability even to make sure kids know that dinosaurs and humans didn’t coexist. Our students should have enough scientific and historical literacy to know that dragons are mythological, that climate change is real, and that slavery and the Trail of Tears were the two darkest moments in our history—racist acts we should unliterary condemn rather than defend or excuse. Also, after 45 years of state support, Oklahoma has just defunded the state Science Fair. Our students who devote their extracurricular time to studying science and engineering deserve a state championship. We don’t need anti-science legislators. We need the right people in office.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly:
3) It’s the BEST thing we do. When comparing national school systems, the United States is one of the best at providing access to free education for everyone. We might not score the highest on standardized tests internationally, but that’s because we aren’t pulling scores from only those who have the resources to access quality education. We don’t track our youngest students into gifted versus vocational programs. We don’t start at 7 or stop at 15. Don’t get me wrong, our system has problems (and inequality is certainly one of them), but it provides transportation, food, books, and more to the most poor, the most rural, and the most disadvantaged. We educate those with special needs, those who live far away from city centers, and those who can’t afford books (or food). Privatization now threatens to destroy the very thing we have going for us. We MUST protect this right.
If you’re interested in protecting public education, join us. We even have t-shirts (because protecting our rights without matching t-shirts is just not as much fun). You can donate your time, money, or both. Become a Public Education Protector today!