Is this now what teachers must be in America: a thin chalk line separating students from violence and anarchy?
Like the thin blue line made by police officers and the thin red line made by firefighters, are teachers now meant to put their bodies and their lives on the line for those they serve, fully aware that they’re also expected to protect and defend?
After the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., we need to ask ourselves if this is what we demand from our teachers, our staff members and any part-timers or subs who might be on the job that day.
We should make clear what we expect from them before we ask them to take pay cuts, slashed pensions, diminished health benefits and weakened working conditions.
“We expect you to act automatically and without fail as a human shield for any child attending the school” should be written into the terms of their contracts. We could insert that section right below the part where it says that if they want to do a science project, they personally have to buy enough construction paper, tempura paint and Styrofoam for the whole class since the school’s new spending plan won’t cover it.
President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal includes a 37 percent cut to an education grant program that supports safer schools, reducing it by $25 million from the current level of $67.5 million, according to ABC News.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, defining herself once again as someone without enough erudition to construct a meaningful sentence without repeating herself, summed up her philosophical stance on the issue by saying, “We need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future, because going back to and putting myself in the seat of one of those families impacted . “ basically makes her sad. DeVos is the one, you’ll remember, who thought teachers should have guns to shoot grizzlies. Mr. Trump keeps Mrs. De Vos around because she makes him sound smart.
If the students and teachers I know could run the educational system, we’d be in far better shape.
One of my students, Kris Mongillo, graduated in June. She is working as a substitute teacher for about $13 an hour before she begins her stint with Teach for America this fall. She had been working at a family restaurant and making good tips but she tightened her professional belt in order to get more classroom experience before joining Teach for America.
(The fact that we are willing to pay our wait staff more than we’re willing to pay our educators is not exactly a terrific reflection on America, where we’ll stuff our faces but deplete our libraries.)
Kris sent an email right after the Parkland shooting. She wrote that her “heart completely shatters every time something like this happens” and that she couldn’t believe that she was using the phrase “every time something like this happens” about a catastrophic event.
“This is not an issue that’s evolved out of a single individual’s psychological problem,” Kris argued, but “one that’s grown out of a shared sociological problem.”
“I want a fortress,” demanded another educator who sent me a message on Facebook. She has taught for several years and has young children of her own in other schools. “I want schools to be as secure as court houses and airports. I want a gate with a guard. I want passes and decals; I want gates and locks. Once on campus I want metal detectors.”
Emma Gonzalez, Chris Grady, Dylan Redshaw and other students from Parkland who survived the shooting are now a visible and vocal part of a national crusade to change gun laws. They’re making powerful arguments and scrutinizing the financial, historical and political underpinnings of the gun lobbies.
They’re using research, logic and rhetoric, all of which are tools they’ve mastered because of their public school educations.
The thin chalk lines that truly keep the world from chaos are ones written on the board by teachers who encourage students to learn about the world, question the world and, when necessary, change the world.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books.