Desperate, furious, American teachers walk out

By Caitlin Kelly



Watch this 3 minute CNN video and marvel at the travesty of American “education.”

In it, teachers in Oklahoma — with master’s degrees and 20 years’ experience — mow lawns, wait tables, cater weddings and drive for Uber to make ends meet.

One needs to use a food bank to eat.

If you’ve been following American news lately, you’ve seen reports of teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma fighting for higher pay and better conditions in which to teach — like textbooks that aren’t 20 years old and literally falling apart.

From CNN:

Education funding has dropped by 28% over the past decade, the state teachers’ union said. Oklahoma is among the bottom three states in terms of teachers’ salaries.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that gives an average of $6,100 raises for teachers, $1,250 raises for support staff, and adds $50 million in education funding.
From The Atlantic:

Thousands of teachers returned to the picket lines on Tuesday in their effort to secure more education funding from state legislators, forcing the cancellation of classes for public-school students in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The picketing marked the continuation of a strike that kicked off on Monday, when tens of thousands of educators in about a third of Oklahoma’s school districts walked out, affecting 300,000 of the state’s 500,000 students.

The Oklahoma legislature last week passed a bill raising teacher salaries by $6,000 on average and restoring education funding by $50 million, but educators say it’s not enough given the cuts they’ve contended with in recent years. They are asking for $10,000 more per teacher over the next several years and $200 million in restored education funding. The legislature had been cutting education spending for years, with the amount of per-student funding dropping by nearly 30 percent (when adjusted for inflation) over the past decade, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Oklahoma leads the nation in inflation-adjusted cuts to education funding since the 2008 recession.

The great American myth is that the nation cares deeply about “family values” — and the American dream is centered on the belief that each generation will do better economically than the one before.
From Business Insider:

“One of the most notable changes in the US economy in recent decades has been the rise in inequality. A key inflection point in inequality appears to be around 1980. It was during the early 1980s that there was a pronounced increase in the 90-10 income gap and a sharp rise in the income share of the 1%.

“With the advent of a more unequal society, concerns about a possible decline in inequality of opportunity have risen to the forefront of policy discussion in the US. To better understand inequality of opportunity, economists and other social scientists have increasingly focused attention on studies of intergenerational mobility. These studies typically estimate the strength of the association between parent income and the income of their offspring as adults.”

In other words, it’s not so much inequality of outcomes that bothers Americans, but inequality of opportunity. And that, unfortunately, appears to still be rising.

Not possible when teachers can’t even earn a living and students sit in dark, dirty classrooms with broken desks and chairs.
The Republican governments of “red” states where teachers are walking out in protest believe in cutting taxes to the bone — while offering generous perks to employers and corporations.
I don’t have children or young relatives in the American school system, but my blood boils at the inequity of this.
On a radio call-in show this week, one New Jersey teacher — annoyed she had lost $12,000 in income — said she earns $90,000. That earned spluttering disbelief from a teacher calling in from another state where he earns half that amount.
I moved to the U.S. years after completing my formal education in Toronto and Montreal, which, thank heaven, was well funded and excellent.
One of the first books I read when I arrived — and I urge anyone who wants to grasp this issue to read as well — is Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol.
The book came out in 1988, but rings true today; millions of  American students face a kind of educational apartheid if they live in tightfisted states and low-income neighborhoods where school funding comes from local taxes.
It is deeply disturbing and powerful; he examined the wide and brutal disparities in education funding across the nation.
You want to get schooled?
Watch how poorly and unevenly this country handles education.

15 thoughts on “Desperate, furious, American teachers walk out

  1. I have been dismayed watching what happens to teachers and their students in the US. The US is also one of the lowest scoring industrialised countries on the international tests known as Pisa (math, science, first language). Then there are the ivy-league unis that can afford to hire the best from around the world because they are largely funded by the 1%. The gap is breathtaking. Unfortunately, the bulk of American students in many public schools underperform in a very serious way.

    Great post. 🙂

    1. The apartheid I mention is not a joke, even if the language feels excessive. It isn’t.

      There is no such thing as a “level playing field” and the privileged make very sure it never will be. I find it shocking — and in a country that goes on and on about “liberty”. Get real. It costs money to educate people well, if “only” to hire and retain teachers who won’t have to work 3 additional jobs. I wonder why on earth they don’t leave the profession under those circumstances….while $90K a year IS a very nice wage, plus benefits and pension.

      1. Yes, I understand. I don’t know why they don’t leave – the attrition rate from the teaching profession here is big, despite the fact that the situation is much better, including pay. But it has become very difficult to deal with parents who want special treatment for their little snowflakes and also refuse to recognise that not everyone can be a brain surgeon. From what I can tell, that seems to be the biggest issue, although that pales in comparison to what is happening in the US. The automatic assumption of “freedom,” “liberty” and being “the greatest nation” or “leader of the free world” (Trump can’t lead any world, including the one in his head) is just mythology. None of those things exist now, if they ever did. It seems to me as if the preoccupation with money is seriously out of control.

  2. Jann Jasper

    Thank you for another excellent and informative post, Caitlin. I particularly appreciate the context you provided, explaining what has changed in the past few decades that got us to this sorry state. And until reading your post, the irony had not occurred to me- the states that are the most vociferous about family values seem to be the worst at educating children. What hypocrisy! Kind of like the anti -reproductive-choice folks who claim to be pro-life, but they lose interest once that life emerges from the womb.

    1. Thanks, Jann.

      The links really offer much better detail, but the context is interesting — teachers are so badly paid in a nation where $$$$$ is revered. That alone sends a really poor message to them and to their students.

  3. What I really don’t get is why politicians say there’s no money for education–for teacher pay, supplies, buildings, etc.–but after Parkland, they suddenly have money to arm teachers. What the heck? Is it only okay to give money towards education when it benefits lobbyists with lots of money?

  4. as you can imagine, this is a subject that hits very deeply with me. i am fortunate, to teach in a situation where the faculty are respected and rewarded for their education and their efforts, however, when i changed careers and began my role as an educator, i worked in places where it was quite the opposite. i know that this is true for many in my profession,

    why do teachers stay? having met and worked with many teachers over these years, the almost universal truth is that they went into this profession for the right reasons; wanting to make a difference in someone’s life, to do something to give back, because they have a love of learning, guiding and supporting those who will one day be the adults in our world, sharing their knowledge, and watching a child learn for themselves, among many other noble reasons.

    in my experience, teachers are willing to sacrifice some things in their own lives to give this to their students, but it is important to remember that we are human too, entitled to be compensated and respected for what we do. again, i am in a fortunate position, though i haven’t always been, and my daughter, who is now also an educator, began her career in just such a situation. she now finds her place in a much better educational system, though many who she knows, are not.

    in teaching children whose families come from a variety of places in the world, it became clear to me that educators are much less respected in our country than in most other places in the world, and in way to many places, it clearly shows. educators, have taken the time, spent the money, become educated, in order to perform this role, are entrusted with children, and expected to perform at a higher level, yet are often not respected or rewarded as in any other profession. in many cases, it is absolutely intolerable, and as you mentioned, teachers have to take on other jobs in order just to live their lives. this system has to change or many will leave in time or choose not to enter the profession.i did this myself for years in the beginning. i stand behind each and every one of them who speaks up and walks in support of these changes.

    1. I thought of you when writing this — and knew it would hit home.

      I understand the passion and skill teachers bring. I find the way many are treated here really appalling — and revealing — and a sad measure of what Americans value most. They SAY it’s education, but they pay teachers so badly and students get such short shrift compared to many other nations. It shows.

  5. “A teacher asking tough questions of school board members in the Vermilion Parish School District in Louisiana was escorted out of the meeting by a security officer and handcuffed on the floor and arrested, videos of the event show.

    Deyshia Hargrave, an English language-arts teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, asked board members Monday night why they were planning to vote to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a raise when teachers had not had a pay increase in years.” from The Washington Post.

    This happened in January 2018. What happened to the right to free speech in America? You open your mouth to express an opinion. And you’re handcuffed, manhandled and arrested???

    1. Apparently, that definition of “free speech” is highly subjective.

      I suspect you have a much less rosy and romantic view of Paris and of France now, having lived and worked there for decades.

      I feel that way now about the U.S. I enjoy my life in NY and don’t regret leaving Canada, but I have no gauzy illusions about Americans and what so many of them (are taught to) value most — obedience and conformity, to a bizarre degree.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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