3 – Teacher Actions, students, and a radical critique of schools

By Jean Meeds

San Francisco Movement of Rank and File Educators have been doing demonstrations and walking picket lines at a public San Francisco High school to help stop the teacher Exodus from San Francisco. I work there as a volleyball coach for the Women’s volleyball team. The San Francisco Unified School District has offered teachers a tentative 6% increase, but that does not come close to covering the increased cost of living in San Francisco.

San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet pays teachers at one of the lowest levels in the area. San Francisco is now known for its private schools. Funny, in my 5 seasons as coach, this is the first time I have worked as a coach in a public school, as all the other times I worked in several different privateschools. The students in public schools have more of a funky cool spirit as opposed to the bourgeois individualism vibe of private schools. 

There have also been unionizing events in private schools such as the Blue School in New York. Public schools teachers in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio have also gone on strike this fall and have won pay increases and other benefits. The CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) which is a militant union stated during their recent strike: “We are just not fighting for the interest of the teachers or the staff. We want a union that is fighting for the common interests of the teachers, the staff, the students, and the community.” The Union is an ally to the community!

Our schools may seem useful to turn children into doctors, sociologists, and lawyers, etc. but they are poisonous, as well. Both teachers and students are oppressed groups and exploited. For most of your school life, it doesn’t make that much difference what subject you are taught, the method is the real lesson. The form is the methodology. The structure of rules, punishments, and rewards trains us much more than the subject matter, which often has no relevance on one’s life. “Schools Not Jails” may be a cool slogan and there have been rallies held with that theme, however it is interesting to note that the architecture of many schools is similar to that of prisons.

It is also interesting to note that the National Labor Relations board has always blocked union efforts by students. The idea of students not being able to organize unions has its origins in the New Deal period. So much for progressive Capitalism! When we talk about reaching a deeper depth of democracy here in the US, one has to realize that political freedom is much more than what is in the legal statutes, but is rather a state of mind which can be either stunted or uplifted in schools. Whether one is in a public or private school, that is where one learns about submission to authoritarian agendas and how to follow orders mindlessly. 

While learning is important, the point is how we transmit this knowledge in a manner that is uplifting and meaningful. Organizing communities around educational justice issues is a good start, such as ending racially discriminatory discipline and policing practices and creating community-oriented schools with culturally-relevant curriculum for students.

I would like to thank Jerry Farber who Taught at San Diego State for some of the ideas and concepts in this article.