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.


Matthias Rascher said...

Hi Victoria,
I think some of my students are about to leave a comment. We are talking about the walkout here in class.

Greetings Matthias

Anonymous said...

Hey Victoria,
We're in a similiar situation as the students in california and have to find a way to finance our studies. That's why we have sympathy for the members of the walkout and we respect you for raising your voice!

Tim said...

Hi Victoria,
I have a high respect for you because you stand up against this kind of unfairness you have to face with your goverment. Keep on fighting back!

Greetings Tim

Sascha said...

Hey Victoria,
state's always complaining about the decline of the knowledge of young people. But then they do a such thing and increase the fees for studying and lower the budget for the universities so that students can't have the good education they should have! What a nonsense! They should really think about what they are doing!
Greetings from Germany

Jasmin said...

Hello Victoria,
I really understand your anger about the behaviour of the UC Faculty. There should have been a reaction on the education quality long ago. I hope the uproar in society will help the situation to get better and that you have no problems to fund your daughters college years.

alisa said...

Hi Victoria, we think you are very brave!We wish we woul have a teacher like you, who´s fighting for our rights!
Keep on!
Best wishes
Alisa & Bianca

vika said...

Sorry for my late response; last week was loooong!

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I'm glad & inspired to see students thinking about the systems that impact them. You cannot maintain a functioning democracy without an educated, and thinking, public.

Yes, among all the things that disturb me, I think the lack of reaction, until now, concerns me most. Everyone beyond the public school years complains about the result, but no one comes to visit the classrooms for themselves. I think many still have the image from their childhood before them, not today's reality. Under the classroom situation today, we couldn't adequately do our predecessors' jobs, let alone the tasks that face us in these much more complex times.

Keep thinking hard, speak up early together, and remember that it belongs to you!