Walk in and listen

Nov. 01, 2013 @ 04:10 PM

The explicit terms in North Carolina state law that keep teachers in the Tar Heel state from striking raise interesting questions about what types of civil disobedience educators can engage in to draw attention to cuts to budgets, salaries and benefits that they believe tangentially or directly hurt their job performance and the students whom they have assumed responsibility for instructing.
We agree that it’s a bad idea for educators to strike. The people hurt by that action would be overwhelmingly too young to vote and too young to pay taxes. It can cause parents issues with child care and politicians angst with their constituencies, but the bottom line is that children who need to be in a classroom learning about algorithms, great authors, the Periodic Table and much, much more would be losing out on valuable hours of class time. 
However, teachers must have recourse for drawing attention to concerns within their profession, which is one, by the way, that more people profess to understand and have a better of idea of how to run than perhaps any other.
The people who are in public school classrooms every day and see the challenges their students face both inside and outside the school are the ones who understand the needs best. And they know that we are at a critical juncture in public education.
Educators rightly course-corrected from an earlier plan to stage walkouts to spotlight their concerns. They now are planning in Durham and other districts across the state to stage walk-ins on Monday.
The criticism our state legislative leadership has raised over the walk-in events, which will be held at multiple schools here, is that they are political. Darn right they’re political, particularly given the fire public education has been under from state and federal elected officials in recent years, with some lawmakers intent on dismantling the public education system.
While the walk-ins are political, they are not partisan. Perhaps those who are calling them political could have benefited from another civics class or two.
Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party has a monopoly on doing right by educators or harming or helping education, although the cuts and actions by the current leadership in our legislature have been unfriendly at best to public schools. That may explain why they are concerned about the walk-ins.
The educators, parents and students participating in the walk-ins are not asking people to vote for a party. They are raising concerns about having the funding from any and all political leadership to conduct their jobs in ways that make sense and are feasible. They are asking for help retaining our good teachers, which means higher salaries. They are asking for up-to-date textbooks and technology. They are asking for teachers aides in younger-grade classrooms. They are asking for a workplace in which they are respected and treated decently.
It seems the least we can do is listen to try to better understand their concerns. Good leaders always want to hear from people on the front lines about what they are facing. The question is, what kind of leaders do we have now?