“The working conditions of the teachers are the learning conditions of the students.”
This phrase has accompanied many reports of improving and reforming public education in America and, of course, political statements from educational associations that support the work of teachers.
To a large extent, the sentence is not only pithy, but also has the ring of truth. It seems like common sense. When classrooms are not equipped with the textbooks, computers, and other technology and tools necessary to educate American youth, ready to do the work our society needs to meet the needs of the 21st century how can teachers best help? Do students learn how they must?
And for classrooms to be optimal learning environments, our public schools must of course also be able to recruit and retain the best and brightest among us, right? Who do you want to teach your children? In order to achieve this goal, it must be ensured that the profession earns a respectable salary and that the working conditions are supportive and empowering.
This phrase effectively reminds us that issues of education and labor justice, workers’ rights go hand in hand.
After four years of Trump’s presidency and the shameful and harmful antics of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, it will be some fresh air when Dr. Jill Biden escorted President-elect Joe Biden to the White House, which promises reasonable seriousness about education policies, including respect for labor rights.
Dr. Biden acknowledges the interconnectedness of these topics, as illustrated in her tweet last November:
In Washington DC it seems to be a new idea to link the right to organization and the salaries and working conditions of teachers with the fight for quality public education, since this kind of thinking was not only absent in Trump’s administration, but all around. even brutal, dismissed in favor of a brutal attack on public education, the rights of teachers and the civil rights of students.
The sounds of Trump’s silence about public education and teacher working conditions were so audible that teachers from West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Colorado effectively carried out mass strikes in 2018 unlike anything our nation had witnessed since the 1930s. Trump did not say a word to acknowledge or in any way address both the backward teacher salaries in these states and the extremely low funding for public education, which was also an important, if not primary, stimulus for mass teacher action. The silence continued in early 2019 when massive teacher strikes took place in Denver, Los Angeles, and Oakland for similar reasons.
Trump’s proposed budget for 2020 cut education funding by $ 7 billion, and his proposed budget for 2021 followed with a cut of $ 6 billion. DeVos has repeatedly endorsed policies that allow funds that normally go to American public schools to be redirected to private schools.
And she has repeatedly fought against the protection of civil rights or the enforcement of protections for transgender and students with disabilities, as well as for DACA recipients.
Perhaps exemplary of DeVos’ long and damaging four-year tenure as Minister of Education is her participation in Trump’s ongoing assault on the rights of federal employees and their unions. In 2018, Erica Green reported for the New York Times that federal employment agencies reported to DeVos and her division that they were likely to have violated federal law by restricting workers’ protection and their right to access union representation.
David Borer, the union’s lawyer, said at the time: “It’s a real speech on the wheel in the government’s attempt to destroy the federal sector unions. This was the first volley in a widening attack on federal unions, the rights of federal workers. “
DeVos’ attack on union rights reflected the myriad of anti-union statements that were messing up Trump’s budget at the time.
It must be pointed out that this attack on trade unions, on workers who have the right to be represented in the world and to be organized, is of course in line with the efforts to undermine the democracy that we are increasingly pursuing today Trump administration and the Republican Party as a whole. The attack on trade unions must be understood as an attempt to deprive workers of their say in the workplace where they spend most of their time. To say we have democracy-free zones, in this case the nation’s jobs, in a democracy is just a violent contradiction, a bill of materials that Republicans have long been selling to Americans at high prices.
But more in a nutshell – excuse my digression – is that in education, anti-labor policy is actually anti-student, anti-education. In this regard, DeVos is the secretary for mis-education.
On the way to the door, she urged the very same coworkers she attacked to oppose changes to their policies, telling agency staff:
“As many of you know, almost everything in this city, when it comes to education, is focused on schools – not students. Let me leave you with one last plea: resist. Be the resistance to a familiar force that is distracting you from doing what’s right for the students. “
And here we see what either DeVos’ injustice or stupidity is – or perhaps the unfortunate combination of the two. Students are taught by teachers in schools. We need to give schools the right tools to meet student needs and enable them to excel. It also means recruiting, retaining and supporting qualified teachers so that they have autonomy and can use their expertise and creativity in the service of students. It means having counselors and nurses on staff to look after children.
In your opinion, what does it mean to focus on students if it is not ensured that they have quality teachers, optimal teaching and learning environments, and attention to their mental and other health?
Ironically, DeVos’ tenure can best be characterized as a constant attack on students. In January last year, the American Federation of Teachers sued DeVos for deregulating nonprofit educational institutions that defrauded students and American taxpayers of billions of dollars.
Dr. Biden’s tweet is a strong reminder that labor rights, quality public education and democracy go hand in hand.
Having such a voice in the White House promises to counter the foul-smelling air of Trump’s swamp that has contaminated our fragile democracy for the past four years.
Donald Trump didn’t have a supportive word
The sounds of Trump cardThe silence about public education is so audible that it is deafening. In fact, as of 2018 teachers out West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado effectively involved in mass strikes the likes of which our nation has not seen since the 1930s, Trump card did not say a word to acknowledge the two backward teachers’ salaries or to address them in any way conditions or the extremely limited funds for public education, which were also an important impetus for the mass actions of teachers. This year there were already massive strikes by teachers in Denver, The angeland Oakland for similar reasons.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. As a longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.