In order to know where you are going, it is important to fully understand where you have come from. Dr. King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Tonight, August 29, 2013 at 6 pm, a group of educators and organizers were given a chance to reflect upon these ideas. And to consider real strategies for a more mobilized future.
Stories from the Past/Visions for the Future at TAG Philly featured a panel discussion followed by small group conversations provided space for a much needed dialogue. It was a conversation about the importance of the Philadelphia Teacher Union and its role in this current struggle.
“This is a rich country and we should never accept the argument that there is not enough money for quality integrated public education.” (SEAC, 1992) “Leaders of the PAFT, the AFL-CIO, the PSEA and parents all spoke with one voice. Hundreds of activists from these groups converged on the state capital to lobby legislators on an important issue of our time.” (SEAC, 1992) “Class size must be reduced across the board.” (SEAC, 1997)
These are the words of the School Employees Action Caucus of PFT from nearly 21 years ago. Yet, the words still ring true today. The Philadelphia Teacher’s Union is in for a battle with District, City, and State leadership. The suggested concessions that the PFT considered, which included no pay raise has been rejected as not being enough. The time for more solutions is here. All of the members must fully understand the history and importance of the power inherent in collective bargaining, and TAG Philly at 4233 Chestnut (Media Mobilizing Project Office) gave its members and guests the rare opportunity to have a rich historical conversation. The panel consisted of Rosita Johnson, Ben Sears, Patty Akin, and Deborah Grill. Each provided stories about their experiences with the union ranging from participating in strikes, and combining forces with community organizations. Some remembered when the Teacher’s union was not friendly or very receptive to parents and outsiders. All agreed that it was important to build bridges and relationships in order to create more powerful political leverage.
One teacher asked how to have this conversation with her 4th graders. Rosita Johnson responded, “Our responsibility is to make it a better world.” By sharing the truth and letting the students know why you became a teacher in the first place is a great place to start.
Then we broke into groups and some of the following strategies were suggested:
- Making connections between the PFT and other local labor unions, especially those that exist within the same building
- Making sure that younger members understand the history and purpose of the PFT
- The involvement of all members so that 15,000 show up to each and every rally and protest
- Engaging the community and connecting with other organizations like APPS (Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools)
There were more extended conversations about funding formulas, petitions, and how the past is looking very much like the present. How can SDP no longer be under state control? Teachers from charter schools were also present to identify how and what their support can look like. Patty Akin even provided a great example of how the union at Temple University Hospital prepared its members for a strike financially and emotionally by assisting with the saving of money and providing full transparency with the presence of larger committees.
The night gave us important lessons and tangible steps forward. It also gave us some historical truths to inspire us throughout the continued debacle.
“The function of education is to teach one to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” (Dr. Martin Luther King) This is the mission of public education and it is imperative that it does not get lost in bureaucratic capitalist channels. Thanks to organizations like TAG Philly this will not happen without a fight. Check out their latest response to the PFT Proposal.
If you are interested in additional reading please check out Confessions of a Bad Teacher by John Owens and The Philadelphia School Crush Saga.