(September 12, 2016) There are several reasons that I am encouraging young Berniecrats to become teachers in the public school system. One, there’s a teacher shortage, so it’s not a difficult job to get. My advice is to skip the education schools and see if you can get an internship that will train you on the job. Second, teaching is reasonably well-paid, at least compared to barista or Whole Foods jobs, with good benefits. It certainly should be much better paid for all the work and training involved, but you can live well on a teacher’s salary, and there are those breaks. Third and most important, the schools are a battleground of the revolution.
There are at least three fronts of the class struggle in the schools. One is the curriculum, sorely in need of progressive content. When I taught preschool, I wrote and produced a play with my students called the Rosa Parks Story. 4 year-oldsmay not understand race, but busses they get. Even with the scripted curriculum required now in many schools, there’s always time to inject progressive ideas.
A second front is the actual day-to-day treatment of children. Forcing 7 year-olds – or even 16 year-olds – to sit still for six hours a day is nothing but child abuse. The humanization of the school experience for children is a vital struggle for our revolution.
A third front is developing the labor and political power of teachers. Teachers need to organize in strong unions, and much of what the charter school movement is about is busting the teachers’ unions. This is tricky because all too frequently the protection of certain teachers’ jobs is not in the best interest of the children or their families.
The New York teacher’s strike in 1968 was a watershed moment that arguably played a major role in ending the civil rights movement. Teachers went on strike against a decision by a black-led community control board to transfer two white teachers out of a black school.
Which brings us to a fourth front, the most crucial in my opinion, building an alliance between teachers and parents. Such an alliance could be the determining influence in educational as well as social reform – and revolution. This alliance could stop the destructive push toward privatization and unaccountable charters. It could work to root out the myriad practices of schools that perpetuate racism, such as standardized testing and discriminatory suspension. It could transform the schools from instruments of oppression to vehicles for liberation.