In May I took these pictures of the “rally” outside the City and County Building on Main Street. A generally small and disappointing affair, I pondered what to do with the photographs. The group rallied in support of the extra financial request proposed of the county by Dr. McIntyre. Many complications surrounded the whole affair: It seemed sudden with no groundwork laid for the possibility of the request. Along with the suddenness came a lack of clarity as to precisely what such a tax increase would fund. The Knox County Education Association seemed divided, on the one hand feeling schools need more money and on the other disagreeing with some of the proposed use of the money. The economy and the anti-tax sentiment surging nationwide certainly didn’t make this the best time to suggest such a thing.
Given the above, I’m not sure that I should have had great expectations for the rally, but I thought surely a larger percentage of local educators would heed the call. Traditionally that has not been the case locally. I suspect many teachers vote for the very politicians who do the most damage to our schools. I’ve certainly watched our local teachers for years accept lower pay and poor working conditions, lay-offs, inadequate resources and general indifference on the part of large numbers of our citizens with hardly so much as a word. Let the Knoxville News Sentinel mention teacher pay and the re-sounding chorus in the comments is something along the lines of, “they knew they wouldn’t make any money in the first place,” or “they make more money than I do.”
I suppose after the year that teachers had last year, with the ridiculous evaluations, the equation of multiple choice tests with real education and the attacks on “greedy teachers unions,” which are after all only teachers, that there might be enough resulting fire that something like an increase in funding for the schools might ignite some of the simmering passion. Apparently not.
The two counter-demonstrators pictured above far out shouted, danced and generally grabbed the attention from the dozen or so teachers and parents who advocated for the funding increase. I asked one how much the tax increase would really cost the average tax payer per month and he became angry saying he refused to have the conversation about a “cup of coffee per month,” which he said was intellectually dishonest. I asked him how it was dishonest to frame it that way and he refused to talk any further. He was opposed to this tax, but the gentleman with the longer hair opposed any taxation by the government, identifying himself as libertarian.
I came away discouraged for our future and for any hope that teachers or citizens who value education might challenge the poison atmosphere we’ve enjoyed in this state since Republicans took our legislature and governorship. Since that change in leadership we’ve gotten proposed and successful legislation to prevent teachers from mentioning or discussing homosexuality, to allow guns on college campuses, to make bullying in the name of one’s religion acceptable, to allow presentation of creationism as science. Teachers have been characterized as resistant to change, the problem preventing our students from excelling and a significant financial burden.
At the same time, charter schools have become easier to establish and legislation has made it easier for them to take a portion of state funding. Online education offered by for-profit companies is touted as a wave of the future, even if it means Tennessee taxes going to private companies out of our state. Jamie Woodson, who promoted much of the charter-school agenda, championed legislation to make charter schools more profitable then left the legislature to become employed by one of those very companies while receiving great accolades from her Republican colleagues. The list goes on.
So, why this post and why now? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new school year. We all wish the best for our children as they head off to school. We want them to learn, be happy and be safe. Somehow we forget that the people charged with keeping them safe and happy and helping them learn (though they are not able to “make” them learn) deserve our support, also. What happened to the era when the teacher got the unquestioned support from home and the parents worked with their children at night help them be successful?
Here’s hoping for a better year for teachers in Knoxville and in Tennessee. May you have effort from your students, support from their parents, financial backing from your communities and may the legislators find something better to do with their time than make your very difficult job less possible. And if any of these things don’t happen, may you find the backbone to confront that student, parent, administrator, community member or legislator standing in the way what’s right for our children.