“Bad Ass Teachers” Unite
I have long wondered why teachers in general weren’t willing to stand up to the forces that are trying to undermine public education in this country. While the teachers unions’ (both NEA and AFT) leadership have been working diligently through various and sundry political mechanisms through both politics and policy to address the many problems facing public schools today, the wave of anti-public education sentiment buoyed by the gullible media and funded by powerful financiers and public education detractors has been making headway while teachers in general stood aside like deer in the proverbial headlights.
As a union leader myself (I was a local leader of my NEA affiliate in Virginia for over 20 years and later served as President of the Virginia Education Association from 2008-2012) I knew the scope and the depth of the issues facing the teaching profession, but while I had numerous supporters who thanked me for the strong stands I took on their behalf and on behalf of our students, when it came to getting them to stand or speak up with me in order to add strength and power to my voice, I often found that they had faded far into the background. It was almost impossible to get people to come out in mass for a school board meeting or a board of supervisors meeting unless it was budget time, and by then, it was usually too late to make a real impact on whatever was about to happen.
For me, the attack on my profession (and sometimes it felt like an attack on me personally as well) first occurred in 1983 when the “Nation at Risk” report came out. The 30-year anniversary of that fateful report was marked this past spring. Ironically, instead of having improved public education in the United States, public education has been eroded as an institution. Detractors have ridiculed, belittled, and maligned the hard working teachers in many (not all certainly, but many) of those schools, and in spite of the almost unanimous consensus that something needs to be done, there is no current empiracal evidence to demonstrate that we have done anything but erode a system that needs support and resources. The achievement gap continues, poverty soars, and the blame is heaped not on the society that has created these circumstances but on the dedicated professionals who keep going to work every day because they believe that they are making a difference… and they are…but not because they are getting the support they so richly need or deserve.
It seems that perhaps the tipping point is rapidly being reached, however. With the help of Diane Ravitch who has undertaken to be a consistent advocate for public education and its teachers, and her blog, teachers are beginning to feel their own power. They are coming together in an organic way that may or may not have anything to do with their respective unions, and they are joining as a virtual community known as the “Bad Ass Teachers Association.” They can be found on Facebook here.
I first learned of this group just a couple of weeks ago, and I joined and shared the information with my own Facebook community. Within a few days, membership on the Facebook site was approaching 10,000 members. Today they are fast approaching 20,000 members, and they launched their own website today.
I am hopeful about this development because I believe it means that public school teachers are finally finding their own voices at last. They realize that the stakes are too high for them to sit on the sidelines and watch while powerful politicians are being controlled and manipulated by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Commission) and its goals to limit government and promote free enterprise at the expense of providing a free and appropriate public education for every American child. That used to be a goal that our government believed in and promoted because they believed that an educated citizenry was something that was needed if we were going to thrive as a nation. Today, while many politicians speak of the need for an educated populace in order to compete in the global economy, little is being done to promote or provide equal opportunities for every child regardless of his or her race, color, gender, or economic circumstance. The children from our more affluent suburbs are getting a better education than their counterparts in the urban centers of the country. It is wrong, but it seems that if we are to halt that trend, it is going to have to be the result of a grassroots movement like the one that BAT seems to be creating.
I am happy to see this group spring forth, and I am proud to be a part of it. If you are a teacher who has been wondering how much longer you can take the abuse that is heaped upon you by legislators, anti-public education “educrats,” and others who have been demeaning what you have dedicated your life to, I urge you to join forces with the Bad Ass Teachers Association. Together perhaps we will be able to accomplish what we have not been able to accomplish apart.