A recent return to my old high school yielded the belief that public school teachers, already burdened with unforgiving hours, pressures, and low salaries, might also be an untapped resource of effective social advocacy.
Nearly 13 million children live in poverty in the United States. Moreso, 39% of children live in low-income families that cannot provide securely for their children’s basic needs. In my hometown, for example, that number has rapidly increased with the rise of low-wage service work at nearby casinos and the fall of manufacturing and higher-wage labor in the defense industry. Teachers at my old public high school reported that the school has stepped in institutionally as social service provider. More than just a place for pedagogy, the school is increasingly providing meals to children in the morning, at lunch, and after school; serving as a safe place to stay into the night; and intervening into the child’s health. Further, an influx of recent immigrants means that there are now 32 languages spoken at the school. It has quickly become a different school with a new set of challenges.
Locally, statewide, and nationally, there are a number of public policies that could help these working families raise themselves and their children out of poverty. The casino workers are currently banned from unionizing. Work support policies such as increases in the earned income tax credit, child care subsidies, and food stamps can help. So, too, can asset-based policies that help families save more, own more, and claim their stake in the economy. And there is no way to overstate the importance of health care – for the children, for their families, that is always there and can never be taken away.
But who is to stand up? These families are working two shifts at the casino – relying on the meals provided to the workers in the casino employee cafeteria. Many don’t speak English, can’t vote, don’t own a car. Living paycheck to paycheck, these are not the folk at every PTA meeting, town hall event, or Board of Education hearing. I believe teachers – already doing so much – can fill that void.
Despite constant political assaults on “the teachers’ unions” and often real concerns with teacher performance, in many places teachers are revered for doing noble work. They are often the first to see rapid changes in the social and economic environment as it pertains to children. And teachers often have working relationships with those parents able to claim their stake in school, local, and statewide governance. In short, teachers are listened to, and children put a human face on social and economic developments too easily looked at as “problems of them.”
- Feminist Population Policy? by Claire August 3, 2008
- It’s Cold & Flu Season….Do You Have Paid Sick Days? by La Lubu September 17, 2009
- Another post about health care by Trailer Park Feminist July 14, 2007
- On Generosity by Natasha August 30, 2010
- Why fix the problem when we can push for a feel-good policy that won’t work? by Sheelzebub October 31, 2006