Friday, September 11, 2015

Why the Seattle Teachers Strike Should Matter to Every American

My 5-year-old standing in solidarity with his teachers

by Sharon H Chang

By now many of you have probably heard about the massive teacher strike launched this week in Seattle Public Schools, the largest school district in Washington state. Also happens to be the district my 5-year-old is entering this year as a kindergartner and, really, we're all entering together as a public school family (because if you think school is only about kids and teachers you're dead wrong). School was supposed to start Wednesday but after six years of being denied cost-of-living pay increase in one of the nation's top ten fastest gentrifying cities (read most expensive) while simultaneously being asked to work longer hours with growing class sizes and less recess (down to 15 min), and also being increasingly held curricula-hostage by excessive standardized tests and hand-tied-bullied by corporate education reform -- our teachers HAD it.

And damn well they should.

Another important piece of the puzzle probably "worth" mentioning at this point is that, since August, the Washington State Supreme Court has also been holding the Washington State Legislature in contempt for failing to adequately fund public schools; a failure that's costing the legislature $100,000-per-day in fines. Which is obviously something we can afford since we're under-funding schools in the first place? I know. Hot HOT mess.

On September 3, 2015, after months of failed negotiations with a negligent school district/system/board that dragged its feet till the first week of school, the Seattle Educators Association (SEA) voted unanimously to strike for the first time in 30 years. Important note here because some mainstream media is purposefully not mentioning -- ahem, Seattle Times -- SEA's demands are for more than just fair pay. SEA is also demanding: fairer teacher evaluations, increased recess time (diminished recess time has disproportionately impacted children of color), manageable caseloads for family workers, and "equity teams" to study/address disturbing persistent opportunity gaps and racist, uneven student disciplining. In other words, Seattle educators want equity.

Okay done with facts and stats. There's tons of writers writing on this right now so if you need more info, just do a web search. Let's talk every day lived life, every day people, every day acts. I took my son to walk the picket line at his school yesterday. I deliberately went at the end of the day because I knew teachers would be the most tired, lonely, and possibly dispirited, given major influxes of public support tend to happen in the morning. To be sure when we got there it was peak heat of the day, teachers were droopy, dripping with sweat, wiped out, slouched; still marching but pretty slowly. Some took breaks sitting or lying on concrete sidewalk. Some were battling blisters, muscle cramps, heat fatigue. Many kept checking their watches and shouting to others how much time was left. Their spirits remained palpably high but when I asked how they were doing they admitted extreme bodily exhaustion and the mental stress of uncertainty was hard. They had no updates, very little information, didn't know what was going to happen one day to the next. My son lasted only two times marching up and down the hill before he started melting down, refused to walk, and could only be consoled by hiding in the shade with a donut from the snack table. When I asked him later what happened he said unhesitatingly, "It was too hot."

Our multiracial Asian family went to walk the picket line because we too demand basic rights and equity for all public education

This is real. This is what these teachers and our community have to do to demand basic rights and equity for public education. Our multiracial Asian family went down to walk the picket line and support our teachers because we're a public school family, yes. Because we live in Seattle, yes. But it's about more than that. It's because we too demand basic rights and equity for all public education. Sometimes fighting for those rights and equity is about fighting for ourselves (e.g. we have an active son of color who we know would be disproportionately disadvantaged by diminished recess and Asian boys experience some of the worst school bullying). But sometimes fighting for those rights and equity is about fighting for others in solidarity. For instance, it's Black children that are some of the most impacted by uneven school disciplining. We're a non-Black family but we challenge anti-blackness across society and in our own community (including the Asian community) when we stand by our teachers' demand for equity team investigations and solutions. 

And this is why the Seattle teachers strike should matter to every American too. This isn't just about Seattle. Net search "US public school inequity" and you will easily see that what we're facing here in the Pacific Northwest is endemic to all American public schooling:

The Stark Inequality of U.S. Public Schools, Mapped  (City Lab)
14 Disturbing Stats About Racial Inequality in American Public Schools (The Nation)
Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty (Washington Post)

Admittedly everyone knows I have beef with Seattle, to be sure. It's a predominantly white city with pseudo-progressive politics that can be intensely and overwhelmingly frustrating. I've written on it before and I'll write on it again. But in this moment I am extraordinarily proud of my city, my community, and our public school educators who are STANDING UP to fight for something all of the U.S. can -- and should -- care about. I think our teachers are very brave to counter a corporate, capitalist culture that is ever-privatizing, ever-powerful. That's some scary business that can have huge repercussions. SEA is setting a precedent, an example for enough-is-enough; something we're going to need a lot more of in this country moving forward. Frankly, I think this strike is historic. I am proud to live here in this moment, participate in ways I can, and hope all Americans can appreciate and support what Seattle is doing right now for our entire nation.

Me and kiddo #SEAstrike

1 comment :

  1. The legislature is not being fined every day; the supreme court had imposed sanctions, which means the $100,000 per day goes into an education fund.