Dear Governor Ducey,
I don’t want to write about school shootings. I want to sit down and write you a letter about how Arizona students receive 1,000 fewer dollars in student funding per child than they did 10 years ago. The amount of funding per student has gone down. The number of classrooms without a permanent teacher is up to 2,000. I just saw a propaganda video on Facebook that said Arizona Education is heading in the right direction because “schools are heading in the right direction.” Some sort of tautological argument that the Superintendent for School Choice started spewing. In what world is spending $1,000 fewer per student ever going to be a good direction for education? Bargain basement education? Man, we sure are doing a great thing by our students, making sure their education is the cheapest around. Can you imagine being a kid and going to class and not knowing who your teacher will be from day in to day out? Substitutes do a great job, but they’re subs for a reason—they aren’t meant to make long-term educational goals. Two thousand classrooms. Multiply that by 30, the average number of students in a class, and that’s 60,000 kids without a permanent teacher.
Public school teachers are a city unto themselves. Unlike the university where I teach which has its own gym and post office, library and health center, teachers serve as health trainers, Band-Aid putter-onners, letter senders, book readers and counselors. They’re friends and food-providers. They find winter clothes for kids who forgot theirs. They break up arguments, instill big abstract principles like perseverance and perspective, patience, respect, forgiveness. These teachers build up trust. A whole year of having rotating teachers means that the kids don’t know who to go to for help. They don’t learn about perseverance because the person at the front of the class changes day to day or week to week. These teachers, both the substitutes and the permanent ones, work every day for less than they made 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation. It’s a big signal, Governor, the one you send to kids that says, “I really do not care about you, your Band-Aid needs, your winter clothes needs or your reading needs. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, children. Get your own damn Band-Aids and your own damn hats and coats. If you can’t get yourself to a charter school, then I really can’t help you. Take the bus to your public school where maybe we’ll have a teacher for you or maybe we won’t. Maybe you can dig through the lost and found for some gloves.”
I don’t want to write about school shootings, but in writing about all the tasks teachers do, apparently, they must also act like bulletproof vests. They must serve and protect by practicing lock down drills. They must understand and use the phrase “active shooter” comfortably. They must take lessons on what to do if a man—it’s always a man, Mr. Ducey—arrives with a gun and bad intentions. Think of how much trust our kids put in their teachers. Think of how scared teachers must be every day to go to work and not only have to find Band-Aids, winter hats and age-appropriate books. Now, they have to try to keep shooters from pointing guns at their students.
If I were to be such a conspiracy theorist, I might be so crazy as to think this is all part of the plan. Make teaching so hard, so ill-rewarded, so dangerous, that no one is willing to do it. The students who go to private schools will be funded with public vouchers, and the rest of the kids will go to schools where, instead of teachers, they’ll have managers. Maybe the kids can make some products—buttons or gloves or hats. Maybe if they were making commodities like hats, the government would value them, and they’d find a way to keep the guns out of schools.
The only thing that gives me comfort are the kids themselves. Things are maybe changing. There are a bunch of kids today lying out in front of the White House to beg for some sort of sane gun laws. They are saying “no” to being targets. They are saying, “I need to trust my government not to let people shoot me.” They are lying on the ground. They are sitting-in. They are standing up. They are speaking up.
They aren’t wearing any hats.