March 25th, 2011
To anyone affiliated with Slingshot, I an a fifteen year old high school sophomore in New York State. I requested and received a copy of your zine through Maximum Rock N Roll. I was inspired by the articles inside and if I’m ever in Berkeley I’ll be sure to visit the Long Haul Infoshop Radical Library.
I am writing you this letter because the administration at my school is laying off teachers at my school and I don’t know what to do. It all started yesterday morning. When I walked into my French class my teacher, a sweet lady of 55 with an Ohio accent, was too upset to speak. Or teach for that matter. She asked me to go get the Chemistry teacher, who had no class that period, to come watch us. After I obliged she walked out with no explanation, and was gone for about twenty minutes. When she came back she began packing up her bag and putting on her coat, telling us that she had to leave. Someone asked her if she felt alright and she said no. She left that following period, and a substitute was called in. We learned the next day, today, that she would be losing her job at the end of this school year.
Life is unfair enough for my dear French teacher. Her husband’s health has been failing for a number of years: he battled Cancer a while back. I don’t know what she would do without a salary.
Later that day my cooking teacher announced that after this semester all of her classes will be cancelled and she will be laid off. This means no more Food Preparation, no more Gourmet, no more International Food, no more Home Economics, no more Sewing, and no more Human Development. This teacher lives for cooking. It’s no exaggeration that we are the reason she gets up in the morning. She constantly uses her own money to buy us supplies, and has pleaded with the school board to let her teach more classes. She believes that what she teaches is just as necessary as Math or English, and I agree.
I also found out that my old woodshop teacher is getting laid off. Like my other two teachers, he’s been in education since the stone ages and he’s truly passionate about his job. He was my student advisor four years ago. Back then we would have ten minutes every other day where we would just sit around at the start of the day in a teacher’s room shooting the breeze. But that wasn’t enough for the Tech teacher. I remember it like it was yesterday. He asked us one morning what we wanted to do, something charitable. Someone jokingly said “end world hunger.” So we ended up getting local artists to donate ceramic soup bowls. We made a boatload of minestrone soup after school in the Home Economics kitchen, the same kitchen that is supposed to sit vacant and silent next year, and served it up. We sold the one-of-a-kind bowls of soup in the faculty lounge. The profit we made went towards Doctors Without Borders. The whole experience really impacted our eleven year old minds, and apparently everyone else, since we got in the local paper.
This isn’t the only example of passionate teaching of my old Tech teacher. I took three more classes with him, and every time he pushed our abilities to the max. I also took an after school club with him, which he did on his own time out of his own free will. We can’t just let someone like that go.
So here I am, writing this letter, listening to my Dad’s old Floyd tapes, and begging you to tell me what to do. Teachers like this come once in a lifetime, and me and many other students and parents will do anything to save them. As you can see, they are not incompetent quite the opposite. Please help us save our school and prepare ourselves for the future.
Thank you for reaching out. I’m Suzanne. I have worked with Slingshot & been an activist over the years. I have also been a teacher & am currently an educator at a museum in Oakland. I live with several of the Slingshot regulars & when they were talking about how to respond to you I was there. We all were grateful for your letter, & for me, having worked with young people for 20 years, I knew I had some things to say to you. Some will be easier than others to hear.
First off, the things you are all facing in your school are emotional, deep, personal AND so connected to the big picture mess of this country. You can’t do it alone. Organizing those that care could help. Taking some inspiration from the folks in Madison, standing up is ‘preferable’ to silence, but it is a lot of hard work, there are no guarantees. That said, the work, the process, your voices matter so much, regardless of outcome. I want to say that to be honest. That you all can step up with courage & conviction, acting as if you will certainly win the fight, & walk the razors edge knowing that you may not get the outcome you set out for.
Can you get people together and see what your numerous talents & willingness/time is like? See what tactics people are ‘comfortable’ with or willing to do … letters, petitions, phone blitz, office take over, flooding open comment periods at meetings of the school board or city council, there are tons of possibilities. There may be folks in your community that have done this before. If you need some more help, you can call me.
All that said, win or lose, whatever you do to reach out and celebrate your teachers, telling them how much they have mattered to you will mean so much to them. They are strong people, teachers have to be. They will be knocked down by this, but we don’t know what happens next, some great opportunity could. We don’t know but we can believe in them & support them … letters for them, a party, a surprise. I know it will help them to feel strong as they struggle with their next steps.
This life of seeing how hard things can be & actually caring is heavy at times, we have to pace ourselves. It is really important to trust others to take care of themselves while we help, step up with courage & our values about the world we want to live in.
You matter Alejandro, already in your young life you have done beautiful things. I hope this helps somehow to know that folks at Slingshot care, tell us what happens.
With you in your struggle,
& the Slingshot Collective