By TEA President Beth Brown | Marian Anderson, renowned African American singer, civil rights movement supporter, and Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, said, “No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.”
The coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges, but racial, social, and economic injustice are not among them. No, those challenges have long existed, despite our reluctance (or refusal) to acknowledge them. Discussions about how to serve Tennessee’s students during a pandemic have brought the inequities from the shadows into the light as we admit that our ability to teach students—whether in-person or remotely—depends largely on the resources and opportunities afforded to the schools and communities in which our students live.
State leaders say they want Tennessee to be the best state in which to live, teach, and learn. That’s a lofty goal and one that I can support. However, state leaders’ decisions often do not walk the talk.
For Tennessee to be the best, public education funding must be a priority. Incremental increases just aren’t cutting it. Students deserve clean, safe schools with up-to-date textbooks and technology, and the social and emotional health supports needed for them to be able to focus on academics. Educators deserve professionally competitive wages that allow them to focus on their chosen vocation, without having to work two and three side jobs, and educators should never be expected to accept substandard wages simply because they love their students. School districts deserve a school funding formula that doesn’t force them to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
For Tennessee to be the best, educators’ professionalism must be respected. Those of us who work most closely with students must be involved in the development and implementation of all facets of public education. No one knows better than we the practical applications of the laws and rules that are passed, and there should never be a time when education legislation is discussed or adopted without the input of educators.
For Tennessee to be the best, educational equity must be the pursuit of all of us who work for students, including policy makers and law makers. For too long schools that serve primarily students of color or students living in poverty have had to do more with less, and our students are suffering: their ability to live into their brilliance is strangled. This. Must. End.
Educational justice is racial justice. Educational justice is social justice. Educational justice is economic justice.
As Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” All of Tennessee’s students deserve educational justice.
All of them.
Our words and actions must reflect our commitment to educational justice for every Tennessee student, regardless of their zip code, for as long as educational inequities exist, none of us can be our best.