(Image via Pittsburgh City Paper.)
By Jill Sunday Bartoli
Many of us have a daughter, son, aunt, uncle, mother, father spouse or friend who is a teacher. We know how hard they work, how much of their own money is spent to provide school supplies for their students, how many extra courses and workshops they take during vacations to continue their learning, and how their pay check has not kept up with housing, healthcare, and other living expenses, let alone the cost of teaching supplies for their students.
We know their dedication and commitment to giving our children the education they need to be successful in life and to understand their own role in a participatory democracy.
Our teachers encourage students to think critically so they can understand our less than perfect history, our complex society, and the many changes and challenges that they will face.
Teachers strive to help their students understand the world they live in so they can make sense of it and not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. As a society, we have burdened our children and grandchildren with the impossible task of cleaning up the messes that we have made, and refused to clean up, over the past century.
When I began teaching in 1968, the world was complicated.
But my students did not have to witness a million deaths from COVID-19, catastrophic climate disasters, horrific gun violence, crushing economic inequality, soaring poverty and homelessness rates, manufactured culture wars, and a nation divided, instead of united, to solve seemingly intractable problems.
And we wonder why our children and youth have more mental health problems, and why our handsomely paid legislators, elected to serve us, have done so little to seriously work on the problems we force our children to face in their futures. How confusing it must be for them to find a direction, when both left and right are so demonized. How can our youth imagine unity when adults are so divided.
From 1990 to 2010 I had the honor to teach prospective teachers, and I can truthfully say that they were the most dedicated, bright, hardworking, thoughtful students I ever had the opportunity to teach. I followed my students to hundreds of public school classrooms where they observed teachers and student taught, and I was impressed with the knowledge and commitment of their teacher mentors.
It is ironic to me that Pennsylvania legislators’ five- and six-figure paychecks continue to increase yearly for cost of living, that Pennsylvania has the largest and most expensive legislature per capita in the country, and that our legislators refuse to come to the aid of their hard working and underpaid teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, who don’t earn half of legislators’ benefits and pay.
What do legislators do instead?
Here’s an example.
In 2011 charter and cyber schools were reimbursed by the state for 30% of their costs. But legislators eliminated this state line item and forced our public school districts to pay 100% of the costs per student demanded by charter and cyber schools. This was due to heavy lobbying efforts funded by wealthy donors. And it is this 100% taxpayer funding that is nearly bankrupting many of our public schools and causing us higher property taxes, while some cyber and charter school CEOs are getting wealthy.
The war against truth, understanding, human decency, and a full and rich education for all of our children is very well funded and organized. Dark money is behind the relentless attacks on our teachers and schools (and school boards), who are burning out at record numbers. How can we support those whom we trust with the care and education of our children?
First, we can tell our elected representatives that their job is on the line—that we are watching what they do, and that we expect them to support our public schools and teachers. We have a historic opportunity to do this, because of the recent court decision that our public schools have been underfunded and lack equity in funding.
Second, we can show up at school board meetings where a small, but very vocal anti-teacher, anti-thinking, anti-public school group of people try to dominate the conversation on what is best for our children.
If you don’t have time to go to a school board meeting, try calling a teacher to ask about the challenges and pressures they are facing. Let them know you care, you understand, and you appreciate their dedicated work in service to our children and youth. We can’t afford to lose one more teacher.
Otherwise, teachers and librarians will be forced to vastly reduce the knowledge, understanding and growth of our children and grandchildren, and we will move backwards as a society — distrustful of our teachers, fearful of learning, and controlled by autocrats who want one way of thinking—their way.
Despite rampant and vindictive culture wars, and despite anti-teacher and anti- public school propaganda, we are still a representative democracy — as long as we all participate actively.
We must all find the ways that we can move ahead together, fully awake and committed to the important democratic education that our youth deserve.
We can do this together–left, right and center—for our teachers, librarians, public schools, and democracy. And most of all, for our children and grandchildren.
Opinion contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli, a former educator, writes from Carlisle, Pa. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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