On Moral Monday, teaching with numbers

July 30, 2013 

Some walked behind a banner that said “Raging Grannies.” Others carried signs proudly proclaiming themselves to be teachers, and still others, of all ages, both sexes, many backgrounds, a broad range of positions in life, marched in red t-shirts to be seen and heard as supporters of public education. It was an inspiring sight to see these thousands marching in downtown Raleigh at the close of the business day Monday to make it clear that the attack on teachers undertaken by Republican legislative leaders is deeply opposed by many North Carolinians.

Meanwhile, the GOP lawmakers who in this session cut teachers’ assistants, sliced public education in general, took away the extra pay teachers receive for advanced degrees and generally used public education as a punching bag, were home. Doubtless, if they paid any attention at all, they were telling themselves and others what they’ve said all along in defense of their miserable turn at leadership: We were elected to do this. Who cares what the protesters think?

But it attacking public school teachers, they have made a serious political, and moral, error. For almost every North Carolinian has a teacher’s tale. About the teacher who taught him or her to read, or did that for a child. About the teacher who stayed late and arrived early to give kids in need the extra attention they craved. About the teacher who spent 10 or 15 percent of an already low salary to brighten a classroom. About the teacher who showed the shy kid in the back of the class the light of learning and changed his life.

Narrow appeal

Yes, in their naysaying and their criticisms of public education, some Republican lawmakers may have appealed to the worst instincts of their constituents, angry constituents looking to vent their anger at government, or at President Obama, somewhere.

But that appeal is narrow compared to the admiration and appreciation most people, the vast majority of them, have for teachers. They recognize that teachers are overworked and underpaid (with North Carolina making a fast track to the bottom in the nation in school expenditures) and that most of them are in the profession out of a sincere desire to help young people.

For the GOP leadership on Jones Street, however, they’re just a convenient target. Knowing that teachers disagreed with the cuts to public education, and with many saying so, those leaders, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Sen. Phil Berger, president pro-tem of his chamber, decided to make them pay.

So there go some teaching assistants, there goes tenure (and a modest tenure it was), there goes the extra dollars for those who work to get master’s degrees.

Message ignored?

Monday, thousands of people, teachers and students and church groups and Moral Monday regulars, marked in downtown to let it be known that Tillis and Berger are wrong, and one sign, “We’ll Remember in November (2014),” made it clear that voters will eventually show Republicans that their view is far from unanimous.

The crowd size was modestly estimated at least 2,500 by Capitol police (doubtless a little worried about offending the Republican leaders) and at 10,000 by others. From the looks of the crowd, the higher number seems more accurate.

They had come by bus, many of them, from all over North Carolina. And if their message was ignored by lawmakers, it was also ignored by Gov. Pat McCrory. His campaign rhetoric about education became a mockery as he passively watched legislators attack public schools. For his lack of leadership is as responsible for the downturn in the state’s support for education and the ensuing national embarrassment that has resulted as the wrongheaded ideas coming from Jones Street.

Rage on, grannies. Goodness knows there’s ample reason for it.

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