Many of you have been watching the attacks on the public schools in North Carolina and the N.C. Legislature’s war on teachers and other public school employees. I am sure some of you have wondered why the teachers have not just gone on strike. In North Carolina, that would be illegal, and most teachers in North Carolina, despite the poor treatment they’ve received, would not break the law. Instead, Tar Heel teachers, being creative and politically savvy, have sought other means to make their case to policy makers.
Rather than walking out, as some had proposed, this week teachers in North Carolina staged “walk-ins” at schools throughout the state. They donned their red shirts to capture their anger, they met outside their schools, they rallied with parents and other public school supporters, and they walked arm-and-arm into their schools, professionals united in their aim to improve education for their students now and years from now. Teachers met their students for another day of excellent teaching and learning in spite of significantly reduced resources, larger class sizes, no pay increases for five years, and demeaning comments from elected officials.
This show of protest against the damage done by recalcitrant politicians brought praise and support from the public and the press. North Carolinians support their schools and their teachers. They know firsthand how education can change the life of a student, improve the economy, and bring prosperity to an entire state. They’ve seen it happen in their state in the past. Now, though, they watch in dismay as North Carolina continues to be displaced on lists of best places to live, work, and do business by states that invest more in education.
But the politicians who are responsible for this damage have not let up on their attacks. NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, architect of the most destructive education policies, issued his usual press statements. First, he tried to bully the teachers and parents who were organizing the walk-ins. His tactics misfired when he accused the organization representing teachers of having planned the walk-out and then accused teachers of having injected politics into their classrooms with the walk-in. He totally missed the fact that these actions were organic and emerged from the anger of rank and file teachers. The North Carolina Association of Educators, an NEA affiliate, provided parents and educators with focus and a lawful way to express their first amendment rights by recommending walk-ins.
Senator Berger has emerged as the face of the anti-public schools movement. His comments have taken some heat off a Governor who has provided absolutely no leadership and have shown the public that he, Senator Berger, is the real problem. As long as he is a leader of the state senate, public schools and teachers will be underfunded and demeaned. North Carolina will spiral downward and lose its edge economically and in quality of life. All the energy and anger of parents and educators must be focused on replacing Senator Berger with someone who will represent his district’s interests in great education and good jobs and by removing him as the president of the state senate.
There is, however, an alternate path for the senator. If Senator Berger is smart enough to change his ways, he will find that teachers are big believers in second chances. He should accept the invitation of NCAE to visit his local schools during American Education Week as part of a statewide event: Walk Into Your Public Schools and Walk Out Inspired. He should take the time to meet with teachers, listening instead of lecturing. He should meet with NCAE leaders to design a path toward restoring North Carolina’s leadership in education.
Berger’s voters should pay close attention to the choices he makes. Bad choices for public schools should inspire North Carolinians to stage a “walk-in” at polling locations during the next election.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.