Today is my last posting as a local union president. So many people have said so many kind words about me, none more meaningful to me than those who thanked me for teaching them to stand up for themselves, to speak their minds rather than swallowing their thoughts along with a heavy swig of self-loathing for one’s timidity. That’s what I’ve tried to be about – teaching working people how to gain individual and collective power to better their lives. That’s what unions should be about. It always fascinates me when some management type complains to me about the rudeness of many of our members. What they term rudeness turns out very often to be people having the nerve to NO confidently and loudly to their bosses. I usually thank them for letting me know and making my day.
I’m happy to be leaving. The world of public education has grown ugly. Powerful forces seek the demise of public education. To them it is a potential profit center, not a vital social institution. These corporate forces have had major successes. Worst of all, they have undermined the confidence of the public in the institution to the point where it is becoming increasing difficult to get good people into the system. The so-called leaders of too many of our schools are driven not by and love and respect for the institution but by an ethic that has them eying their next job before they’ve mastered the one they just got. A little district like mine has turned over thirteen administrators in a little more than a year.
Part of me, however, would like to remain on the frontline to see if we can’t win the battle to save the institution. Yet, I know if our precious public schools are to be saved it will take a new generation of union leaders aligned with an aroused public to eventually win the day. I know that can happen. My time in public education witnessed the elevation of teaching from a low paid job for educated women with few other employment options to where at least in my part of the country we make a respectable living. A rebirth of the militancy that led to these achievements is all that it would take to protect public education. Can we bring it to life again? That’s the unanswered question. There are some good signs. I shall try to remain hopeful and do what I can from the sidelines to protect and defend our public schools that have been good to me and to this great nation.