I’d rather cough than take medicine. Sure, the medicine provides a good night’s sleep. But it makes me feel weird for days after. My mind lacks focus and doesn’t follow through on thoughts. My work ethic goes into the toilet. My body feels generally relaxed, but my skin is sensitive to the touch. And I’m depressed.
That describes exactly how I feel about #REDforED. I took the medicine and voted to walk out. I wore my T-shirt and attended three local marches. I wrote the governor and my representatives to increase education funding.
But throughout the action, I’ve felt unmoored and insecure as thoughts, both negative and positive, bounced around my head like billiard balls.
First, something positive – the thousands of protesters gathering on the streets and in social media mostly represented our profession well. We were polite and nonviolent, upbeat and having fun. The posters we carried didn’t offend and mostly informed. The most risqué I saw was, “WTF? – Where’s The Funding?” One funny poster that also made a point had pictures from a currently used social studies book that identified our governor as Janet Napolitano, who served from 2003 – 2009. Lots had data comparing Arizona’s dismal per student budget to the national average, which could have been an eye-opener to many in the public.
The movement was largely bipartisan, too. I saw as many posters saying, “I’m a conservative Republican and support fully funding public education,” as I saw saying, “Stop corporate greed.”
But here’s where some weirdness for me comes in. First, on a personal level, I feel lonely in crowds; so, even though I found friends to hang out with during marches, I couldn’t wait to bolt.
More importantly, throughout the walkout, I felt we were setting ourselves up. Fifty thousand marchers is a lot, and packing the galleries in the House and Senate with red made great optics. But to win, we needed to get three Republican senators and six Republican representatives to create majorities to pass our proposals and then convince the governor not to veto the bill. In those nuts and bolts challenges, we failed – an easily predictable outcome in Arizona.
Sure, we moved the needle on education funding, and we’ll get a proposition on the ballot, and the state may finally properly fund public education. So, maybe the walkout was a necessary condition to produce the results we seek in November. But for now the walkout wasn’t sufficient, and any solace we take feels more like kissing a sibling than going on a honeymoon.
Sliding into the negative, whereas we mostly represented the profession well, I think in some areas we could do better. Every school employee should have had a chance to vote, but I know at my wife’s school, her cafeteria team was never approached by #REDforED. I also heard from a colleague that at her school only teachers voted. Additionally, the only result that was reported was the final count. The was no breakdown based on job titles or location (rural or urban). That data would be informative and it’s fair to ask, Where’s the transparency?
Another problem with the voting was that the only question was whether we favored walking out. Before the voting was even concluded, many were asking if it was just for two days, or if we were all in, no matter how long it took, and who would make those decisions? So, really, no one knew exactly what we were voting for. Given the option, I would have voted only for a two-day walkout. Without the option, I took a leap of faith, accepted the uncertainty, and felt weird about it.
I also want to push back against three common statements that I often hear. First, whenever anyone pointed out the disparate economic impact that a walkout would have on our lowest-paid employees, someone would always say, “We’re doing it for them.” Well, maybe, but considering we don’t know how “they” voted, or even if “they” were given the chance, it’s patronizing to make such a claim. Moreover, you have to be pretty out of touch to cavalierly dismiss the impact of losing seven of ten days’ wages in a single pay period on someone who may only bring home $600 to begin with.
Second, whenever anyone referred to the disruption to families who had to find care for their children, you’d hear a teacher say, “See, the public just sees us as daycare!” Well, for 180 days a year, we do take care of our students during the day. When districts decided to close schools, the number one reason was that not enough staff would be present to ensure the safety of the students, rather than not enough present to educate them. So, no, we’re not babysitters, but why the hostility toward parents voicing a legitimate concern? Ironically, a leading comment from #REDtoED’s opponents was, “Teachers need to be in classes educating our children.” That suggests that at least they don’t see us as mere daycare.
Finally, about the general disruption the walkout produced, many supporters would say, “That’s the point!” But I thought the point was to convince the public to fully fund education. To that end, we have enough enemies, and it seems counterproductive to gratuitously antagonize anybody, as the comment implies we should. After it was clear we would fall short of our goals, some posters showed up saying, “We’ll remember in November.” An attendant question should be, “What do we want others to remember?” If the answer is how we disrupted their daily lives for seven days, we shouldn’t be disillusioned if the elections backfire.
I could go on, but that’s enough to illustrate why I worry that like cough medicine, #REDforED might only provide something that feels like a cure, but really just leaves me depressed.