#ce14 Time-Out: Philadelphia Teachers Were Insulted Today
I could’ve rapped about my hard times on this song
But heaven knows I would a been wrong
I wouldn’t a been right, it wouldn’t a been love
It wouldn’t a been life, it wouldn’t a been us
This can’t be life
-from Scarface on “This Can’t Be Life.” [explicit lyrics on this link]
This week I had planned to continue to write about building community relationships as part of everyday educational practice. This Spring, I’ll be leading a course on it through Arcadia University’s Connected Learning Certificate Program. [Full disclosure: Maybe I should have mentioned that last week that this inquiry isn’t a new one for me.]
But everything changed at about 10:15am, when a parent volunteer in my library informed me that the SRC, the state-appointed committee to run the School District of Philadelphia had unilaterally decided to cancel the PFT contract, citing the necessity of teachers to “sacrifice their fair share” during a virtually secret meeting.
I felt astounded at the renegade procedures. Imagine the simultaneity of a gavel going down in the District’s Central Offices to wipe away a mutually-agreed promise while their proposed conspirators to rob children of a quality education are explaining mathematical formulas, leading classroom dialogues on world history, revising student narratives, etc. And believe me as every teacher knows, there is always “etc.” And it extends from unpaid hours in student tutoring and coaching, to buying one’s own classroom decorations, and even classroom technology.
I don’t work in the School District of Philadelphia. Not even for a oft-thought-separatist public charter school. I have no immediate family that attends School District of Philadelphia schools. Nonetheless, the thought that this is simply their mess and their fight is far from what I feel in truth and in principle. Observing the propaganda justifications that were posted online following the SRC decision, I found that they pushed heavy into painting a picture that separated PFT teachers from their counterparts, both within the district and in neighboring areas. This overwhelming mass of 15,000+ educators who serve the majority of Philadelphia youth have been lambasted as self-serving, greedy, and closed-minded. For them to be able to even land such a strong and aggressive critique, an audience needed to be prepared to view public school teachers in such a way. An action such as today from the SRC may have come without warning but a close eye would notice the foreshadowing in recent years. Critiques of public schools and public school teachers fill our television sets and color our light conversation. Some of us jokingly say “I was a public school kid” when we show ignorance.
Joylessly, I was reminded that working outside of the public education system, many of these sentiments can be found in the justifications that garner our recruiting practices. Public charter, parochial, and independent schools all benefit from the ability to ride the coattails of national-level anti-neighborhood-public-school criticism to promote “We are different.” I ask of stakeholders representing the interests of educational agencies outside neighborhood, and mostly-unionized, public schools:
At what cost does our difference come to the teachers, students, and families in neighborhood, mostly-unionized public schools?
Are we willing to recognize with public school teachers, students, and families that our quest for difference has fueled the flames of public distrust into an educational reality for the majority of our children?
What are the implications of the school choice movement for a community if it’s based and marketed on a hierarchal system of winners and losers, good schools and bad schools?
If we truly believe education is the gateway to opportunity, what does it say about us by remaining complicit in a system where those who have to bear the brunt of toxic educational reforms are our most economically depressed, and disproportionately of color?
To my teachers that are working inside neighborhood public schools, especially those under siege from The School District of Philadelphia, I would like to let you know that while I am not with you during the working day, I know we share community in working towards quality education for all in the Philadelphia area and beyond. I seek out opportunities to be an ally in pushing back against rhetoric that threatens your professionalism while knowing that you deserve the right to negotiate a mutual agreement about your wages and benefits. I support you in your fight to defend and transform teaching and learning in your classroom and look forward to collaborating toward expanding excellence across all our schools, wherever family decisions may lead students. The buildings might change but I hope that the quest for mututal accountability and continual critique of agendas of those with checkbooks and political sway shall never leaves the practice.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin.