Sunday, September 27, 2009

Open Letter to UC Faculty Upon UC Walkout

Dear UC Faculty,

Although I can be polite and diplomatic, I haven't the time or energy. I'm a single parent and a laid off public school teacher. I have a sophomore on one of your campuses and I'm under tremendous stress, so I'm just going to speak plainly.

The UC Walkout? I love the newly discovered (rediscovered?) sense of altruism among you. I hope it's real and that your sudden solidarity with public school teachers under the brunt of Prop 13 is not simply a conveniently played "empathy card."

It's been over 20 years since Prop 13. The universities and colleges of California, and the nation, have been complaining about the decline in skills among the students we send up to you, but you haven't lifted a finger of solidarity on behalf of the public school educators below you, until now, when you face what we've been dealing with for the last 20 to 30 years. As in historical dictatorships, you watched us "carted off" and failed to raise your voices in our support, and now you face the same.

You failed to address the undermining of public school education nationwide in the aftermath of post sixties' social and educational enfranchisement for the poor and those of color. Did it never occur to you that the threat of enfranchisement, to established power at the top, was responded to by undermining the bottom? No longer facing barred doors at the top, the students are now, instead, crippled at the bottom of the staircase. We have been rendered incapable of sending you the quality of students you need.

If you provide universally low education at the public school level, not everyone suffers. Families that already have power and means can make up the difference by providing enrichment experiences (travel, music, sports teams) and tutoring to their children. The poor (and now the middle class) are stuck with what they get in public school. That means the number of income disenfranchised and children of color capable of applying to your universities has been diminished year by year. It also means that those who do manage to arrive are more disadvantaged than their peers of means from the same school. That is a lifetime deficit for which a university experience doesn't always provide remedy. After 30 years, a generation, it is not just our public school students who are undereducated, but now, many of our colleagues, as well. Today, we have a multi-generational culture of low education. This is the new way that power maintains exclusivity in the face of Affirmative Action.

I know you must have discussed the various systemic problems plaguing public school education. But, I want to scream that, over the thirty years of its development, you never seriously addressed this, never set your students on it as a primary research project, never worked at creating the statistical and political means of changing it. What blinded you? Why weren't you curious?

We are your colleagues in education. There is a lot you could have done for us that would have prevented the situation in which you now find yourselves. We needed you to study and report on the hidden "furloughs" we face. We needed you to study teacher turnover and the number of teachers who don't stay beyond their first years, and why. We needed you to survey our health: the level of obesity and prescription drug use amongst us, our rate of counseling use and family problems, our divorce rates, and how these things have climbed. We needed you to document the dwindling amount of time we spend with our families during the school year and how that affects all the facets of our lives. We needed you to assess the amount of money we spend out of pocket, annually, on goods our districts don't cover, but our students need, and what that means. We needed you to go beyond asking what happens to children in overcrowded classrooms and ask what happens to us, their teachers. As colleagues, we needed you, not our unions or faculty senates under their own pressures of self-preservation, to have our backs.

We matter as much as the students; we were students once. And now, we are you.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One Book a Year / #OneBookaYear

It'd be great to leave a bequest or fund a scholarship at the high school from which each of us graduated, but most of us don't have the means.

However, we can send one book a year to the library at the high school from which we graduated. It doesn't take too many participants, from just a handful of graduating classes, to enrich the offerings of their former high school, on a yearly basis.

Multiplied by ten or twenty years, it becomes a profound contribution.

It's a way to share a piece of yourself with students like you, where you started out. Who knows what windows you may open with just one book?

October is International School Libraries Month. It's the month to send the book.

If you're on Twitter, tweet your book's name and the high school you sent it to, with the hashtag #OneBookaYear. Use the hashtag to look up what's being sent and get some ideas, if you need them.

I've also started a FaceBook group: One Book a Year. Join us, and then post the name of the book you sent, along with your high school's name. Not sure what book to send? Get some ideas there...and go for it!