Amanda Koonlaba: Not on Our Watches

11164757_10206497932583916_3464456028614437679_nDear Mississippi Educators,

If something happens on your watch, you are responsible for it as if you were in charge. Well, Mississippi educators, in very recent times, we’ve lost the chance to amend the state constitution to make education a civil right and allowed a gamut of privatization measures to bet set up. These things have happened on our watches.

You see, we haven’t been paying much attention. Some of us have just trusted that those who make the rules had our best interests and the best interests of children at heart. Some of us didn’t want to be uncomfortable or were uninformed and afraid. Some of us have just believed that it is simply unbecoming to get too political as educators, as women, as southerners.

I say us because I have felt and faced all of those things, too. I know it is scary to stand up and speak up. But, educators, I don’t want to live to see the death of public education in this country.

I don’t want to look back on my existence on this planet and think about how I just didn’t do anything. I don’t want to see public education die. This can’t happen on my watch.

So, I’ve started paying attention. I do what I can to be informed. I let myself be uncomfortable when I have to be, when I know it is the right thing to do. I open my mouth and I speak. I write. I vote. I vote for public education. I’m tired of letting other issues trump education. Do not misunderstand what I am saying, though. Other issues are important, but educators have been voting against public education for too long. Someone told me when they voted for national representation in the last election cycle that they voted one way even though they knew the candidate wasn’t the best choice for public education because they thought the schools would just be fine.

The schools will NOT be fine if we keep putting the issues with education last when we vote. That attitude dismisses the importance of what public education does for this country.

It is time we recognize that not everyone has our best interests at heart, and even more unsettling is that not everyone has the best interests of children at heart. We have those interests at heart. We do. Us, the educators.

We must not continue to be silent, uninformed, complacent, polite, and comfortable. We need to watchdog education policy at the local, state, and national levels. If we do not get together and do this, we will see our schools be privatized, our profession will become extinct as we know it, our students will suffer, our communities will rot, and our society will fail.

Don’t dismiss me as a doomsdayer either. Many of these same policies have already eroded other schools, other communities and other states. Is there something  here in Mississippi that will prevent this same erosion when we implement those policies that didn’t work for other states?

No, there is not. If anything, Mississippi is most vulnerable to these policies.

Here are some specific policies that MS educators need to be concerned about:

  1. Testing and evaluation measures- Question everything that ranks and sorts schools, students, and educators according to student test data. I haven’t seen any evidence that these measures improve schools or long-term outcomes for students.
  2. Equitable funding and funding myths- Every child deserves a quality education. I said, EVERY CHILD. Educate yourself on equity and don’t be afraid that funding schools plagued with poverty will somehow steal your own community’s wealth. Question broad statements like “schools spend too much on administration” or “schools get too much money already”. You work in a school. Look around you, do you see what all has to be paid for? Think about insurance and building maintenance. Investigate whether your district has a cap on administrative spending. If something is said about funding, question it, and find the answers. Education is an expensive endeavor folks. It costs money. Plus, considering the barrage of mandates and laws passed to public schools, I can honestly say that I have yet to see or hear of a single school in this country that is over-funded. So, I’m not aware of any evidence that negates the importance of equitable funding for every student and school. 
  3. School choice and the free market- I urge you to think about how a free market would look operating inside school systems. The free market is based on competition. Okay, so one facet of that which is used to promote school choice is that competition makes weak schools strive to be better. That might work if you are operating a gas station and your product is not human beings. But, in education that creates winners and losers. Should we let the model for education be set up as a system of winners and losers? That some children win and go to good schools while others lose and go to bad ones. We have that now in some cases, but we aren’t currently striving for that. So, my question to you is: Do we really want that to be the thing we work towards as a model or do we want to strive for every child in every state and community to have a high quality school? Parents shouldn’t be burdened with finding the best school for their child. Being a parent is hard enough without that pressure, and SO MANY parents don’t have the luxury of choosing a school for a range of reasons. All of our schools should be good schools. The free market and choice of education ideals just don’t promote this. I have seen absolutely zero evidence that this works for all children.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that it is time for Mississippi educators to join together and participate in the democratic process. It is time to speak, it is time to write, it is time to vote. It is time to call Jackson everyday if we have to.  We have to step up and be part of the solution to our problems, but we have to be informed.

It is time for us to say we will not allow the death of public education by privatization in this state. This will not happen, NOT ON OUR WATCHES!

Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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