If you live in Michigan, or have been paying attention to our capital city of Lansing, the Detroit Public School (DPS) crisis, and the state of public education in our nation in general, you might have heard about what just happened late last night in the Senate and House of Representatives of Michigan. I realized that it has been a year since my last blog post, and I truly feel like this issue is important enough for me to write about. As those of you who are close to me know, I am extremely passionate about fighting for social justice, and will be starting my student teaching in inner city Chicago this upcoming August. This DPS legislation that was just passed greatly impacts the type of communities that I will be teaching in a few short months from now. I cannot and will not remain silent and apathetic, because this legislation affects how I teach, and MOST importantly, the students and families that I will be teaching.
There have been dozens of articles written already about the two policies that were at the heart of this rigorous, and at times, vitriolic debate. One of the most objectively, and factually written articles that I have found so far is this Detroit News article that explains the difference between the House plan that was strongly backed by Republicans, and the Senate drafted bipartisan bill that was originally voted on: Detroit Free Press Article. Basically there was a bipartisan bill that was supported by the Mayor, and both Senate Republicans and Democrats, that helped give Detroit Public Schools the money they needed, and still allowed for local control over their school system. The House rejected that bill, and then House Republicans redrafted a new bill which didn’t have bipartisan support and got rid of the Detroit Education Commission that would have overseen both charter schools and public schools. It also included language that punished administrators and teachers who participated in sickouts.
So now you should have the context and backdrop of the intense policy battle that has played out over the last week or so. Last night I sat on my couch as I watched the live updates from Lansing on my Twitter timeline. I kept reading disputing stories of what was happening on the Senate floor. Senators, Representatives, policy-makers, lobbyists, business leaders, unions, teachers. Everyone had an opinion of how this deal should be done.
Pretty intense, right?
These are grown-ups. Reduced to petty remarks, throwing shade, hurling insults, and angry rhetoric. And don’t think that I’m just trying to put this on all “these other people.” You might not have noticed at first glance, but if you look a little closer in my pictures, you will discover that even I found myself pulled into the online Twitter-verse to try and make my voice heard. Looking at these pictures now, I think it’s a perfect example of how easy it is to get wrapped up into an idea that you know (*feel*) is right, and to shut out anyone else who could have a different point of view.
At the end of all the debates and voting in Lansing, the decision was made to move forward with the House Republicans’ bill. I was crushed. Heartbroken. Angry. Dismayed. You name it, I felt it.
It wasn’t until I was outside pulling weeds this afternoon that I remembered one very, very important group of people who seemed to be forgotten in all of this craziness. The students and their families. I thought about how so many Detroit families were probably up just as late as I was, watching in their living rooms, wondering what would happen to their children because of these bills. These are parents who want the absolute best for their children, and for them to receive a quality education so they can have a good life once they leave home. I thought about how most of what I saw on Twitter last night was lobbyists and politicians shouting at one another, exclaiming their plan was the right one. People crunching numbers, throwing around millions of dollar amounts, passionately delivering speeches of what’s best for the families of Detroit, casting final votes.
Do any of these lobbyists know the names and stories of the students in DPS? Do any of these politicians? Do they know the story of the eleventh grade boy whose dad left him when he was young, and so he has to take care of his mother by working multiple jobs outside of school? Do they know the story of the tenth grade girl who is pregnant, but is still continuing to come to school to further her education for her future baby? As I am writing these questions, tears are actually welling up in my eyes, because I know these students. I know their names. I helped teach them geometry at Lansing Eastern High School, and at Lansing Everett High School last year. They made me laugh by sharing their wonderful and unique experiences with me. They caused me to get frustrated when they wouldn’t work, or roamed the halls instead of coming to class. Most importantly, they astonished me with their courage and persistence through so much adversity.
All of the students in Detroit Public Schools have a story. Every single one of them. They all have names and faces. They are not just numbers to be crunched in a bailout budget. I believe that is something that only teachers can truly understand. Lobbyists and politicians don’t fully understand that. They might get bits and pieces, but they will never experience what it truly means to be a teacher who loves their students. Who empathizes with their pain. Who get to be invited into their journey as they grow and learn. Who fights to protect them from harm. This is why teaching, I believe in my heart, is one of the most important and rewarding jobs in this country.
If there is something that can be taken away from you reading this post, I hope and pray that you might see how important it is to always remember the names and stories of the students and families that education policy impacts. This is why excellent and compassionate teachers should be more involved in education policy at the local and state level. In my future career as an educator, I have a strong desire to be both a teacher and have a direct impact on education policy, and more specifically for urban education policy. I haven’t quite figured out yet exactly how I can physically make this work, but hey, I’m only 22 years old…so I’ve got plenty of time left on this earth to give.