Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed...

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed…

I’m inclined not to offer any arguments on this point and let Cindi do my talking:

Yup. The more of them who show up at the State House when they should be working, the less favorably lawmakers will view their wishes.

Walking out is a bad idea to begin with. Making the State House the end point of your walk is even less wise.

There are all sorts of reasons. Here are two or three:

  • We don’t have public employee unions in South Carolina. Never mind whether you or I think that’s a good thing; the point is that our Legislature thinks it is a good thing. So probably the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to get something out of the Legislature, is to act like a union, with a walkout.
  • As the editorial Cindi links to asserts, the assertion that teacher “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” rings extremely hollow when the lawmakers you are griping about are about to give you all a 4 percent raise.
  • May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square? Will Scud missiles (or perhaps giant pencils) roll down Gervais Street on trailers?

Is that all that should happen? No. This was supposedly the year for education reform, and thanks to the Senate being the Senate, that didn’t happen. The House did its job, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and the good-faith work of a consensus of the body, ranging from my old boss Mandy Powers Norrell to my own rep, Micah Caskey.

But I can’t imagine how a mass abandonment of duty on the part of teachers helps us get to where we need to be.

It will be interesting to see who walks out, and who doesn’t. This walkout is the work of the upstart SC for Ed organization, which has been trying to take the role of representing teachers away from the more established groups, such as the S.C. Education Association. SCEA president has expressed some doubts about the event.

But whoever they are, I don’t see the event furthering stated goals…

101 thoughts on “Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

  1. Norm Ivey

    First of all, shame on you for calling it a walkout. It is not. Teachers are using personal leave to take a day off and advocate for their students and their profession. At this point, most of the large local districts have closed for the day (to be made up later), so nobody’s going to be missing any instructional time.

    I read Cindi’s editorial earlier today, and I can’t say she’s wrong as to how it will be perceived by some legislators. And I’ve had the very same discussion with a colleague about May Day and adopting the color red. I’m curious if it was intentional either here or in North Carolina. (We even laughed about using giant pencils in place of missiles, so great minds and all…)

    I’ve not been extremely active in the SC for Ed group for the same reason I don’t identify myself as a liberal or conservative or any other label, and for the same reasons Brad has articulated here about labels. A label implies that you support everything a group stands for whether you do or not. And I don’t support everything SC for Ed has lobbied for.

    That said, I’ll be there tomorrow. After 29 years in the profession, I have no problem with teachers disrupting class a little bit. There are some issues that have been ignored by this state for far too long, and if it takes this type of action to get the attention of the public to bring pressure on the legislature, then I’m all about it.

    First, this state has a dismal history of funding our public school system at the state level. Despite the SC Supreme Court ruling in 2014 (on a case that took 24 years to decide), the legislature has done virtually nothing to bring the schools in our Corridor of Shame (and other poor rural districts) up to what we call in South Carolina “a minimally adequate education”.

    Next, schools are screaming for mental health assistance for our students. Hardly a week goes by without a story about a young person who has taken their own life before they’re even old enough to drive. Guidance counselors are stretched to their limits just keeping up with mandates about career education and graduation paths along with the daily extinguishing of fires to provide meaningful help to most kids.

    Third–and the legislature has taken steps to address this–the starting salary for beginning teachers has got to be increased. There is no other profession that I am familiar with that expects a first-year employee to perform the same job functions at the same level as the 20-year veteran down the hall. Their salary must be high enough as to be an incentive to return the following year. It has to be high enough that they don’t have to work a second job to make ends meet. The amount of time young teachers put into planning lessons and assessing student progress is tremendous, and being worried about paying their bills is one thing they should not be faced with. 50% of all teachers leave the profession permanently within the first 5 years. Fewer are entering the profession. It’s unsustainable.

    Fourth, and this may seem minor, teachers must have unencumbered time during the school day, every day. In many schools, between duties, meetings, conferences and professional development activities, some teachers go hours without the simple luxury of going to the bathroom without waiting for a bell to ring.

    Finally (for me), schools must be funded at a level that they can adhere to the state’s laws about class sizes (or do better than those sizes). Think about the last time you were involved in a child’s birthday party that had more than a dozen or so kids. How many adults did it take to manage the group and the activities? I’ll bet it was more than one, but we ask teachers to manage classes of 25 or 30 kids.

    These are the reasons I’ll be joining my colleagues tomorrow. Of course, some of them will be demonstrating for issues I am ambivalent about.

    First off, I’m not concerned about higher salaries for teachers at my end of the pay scale. I’m happy with 4%, assuming the district can absorb their part of that raise without laying off any of my colleagues. I’ve been topped out in my district for several years, and while I’d like more money, there’s no real threat of me leaving before I’m ready to retire, so retention’s not an issue.

    Next, I hear from time to time that teachers are wanting the legislature to address discipline in the schools. I don’t know what they are expecting. Discipline is a district-school-classroom level thing. I understand the frustration, but you’re never going to legislate good behavior.

    I’ve also heard a lot of talk about too much testing, and that’s a fair criticism. Any time we spend testing students we’re not teaching students, but, like discipline, much of this can be addressed at the district level. The tests that the state could address are the school readiness tests. Any teacher can tell you in the first week or two of school who’s ready.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Norm, thanks as always for your thoughtful, tempered and well-informed response, which is far meatier than my own post.

      We don’t really disagree about much here, except the term “walkout” (which I know many teachers have been careful to avoid, although the difference between that and “#ALLOUTMAY1” seems a subtle one, at least in connotation).

      That, and the fact that I don’t think this helps the cause.

      I look at this from the perspective of a State House watcher, and I’m impressed at the degree of well-intentioned activity I’ve seen from lawmakers this year, the Senate’s usually foot-dragging notwithstanding. The level of complaining I heard from the SC for Ed folks, some of whom acted as though no one in the State House cared, seemed out of sync to what was happening in the House earlier in the session.

      But thanks again for your response, and I wish you the best tomorrow…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I don’t expect the demonstration to move many legislators. I think its real power is in galvanizing public support, which could then translate into pressure on the legislature, especially among young people just beginning their families, or just beginning their careers.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And that’s always the dilemma. It always has been for me.

          And it’s something Cindi and I used to argue about constantly.

          I wanted to argue for the perfect. I wanted to advocate for doing exactly the right thing, and I wanted to castigate anyone and anything that fell shot of that.

          Cindi was all about being pragmatic, and offering arguments that might actually move that bunch of lumps over there in the Legislature — and if they did something halfway good, pat them on the head because it’s a lot better than what we had…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And trying to move lawmakers was a great deal easier than trying to move the people of South Carolina, at least in any effective or productive way. After all, they’re the ones who elected these lumps.

            There have been very, very rare cases in which I believe taking to the streets had a real, useful effect.

            The King Day at the Dome demonstration in 2000 was such a moment, mainly because it was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen — somewhere around 60,000 or higher — and it was clear all those people wanted the flag to come down. It led to the totally inadequate action of moving the flag off the dome and into the grounds, thereby setting up 15 more years of conflict. But it was action, when there had been ZERO positive action before that. In fact, all our effort before that had only led to the extremely negative reaction of putting the flying of the flag into law.

            This gets into one of my problems with demonstrations — they are unfocused in their effect. In fact, they’re more affect than effect.

            They express an emotion, or a bunch of emotions. They tell people, “LOOK, we feel really, really strongly about this.” Trouble is, the THIS isn’t well defined (even when it’s something as simple as “get the flag down”), and different people read the message different ways.

            In another comment, I quoted the poet Jagger: “We’re gonna vent our frustration…”

            And that gets accomplished. But the message is ultimately so nonverbal, so nonrational, that you end up not getting what you want even if people are TRYING to give you what you want… No matter how careful speakers at the event might have been about their words, what they say isn’t the message. The great mob of people turning out is the message, and that’s very subverbal.

            Does this make sense?

          2. Barry

            I private messaged Cindi and told her I disagreed with the editorial. My wife was at the march.

            She seeems to think “wait until next year” which we’ve heard a hundred times before.

            I messaged her back today because I heard Nathan Ballantine on the radio suggest he doubts the Senate will do much on education next year because it is an election year.

      2. Pat

        Walkout means to up and leave suddenly without preparation. The teachers I know who are attending sent in an advanced request for a personal day (which uses one of their accumulated sick leave days) and left lesson plans for the substitute scheduled to be there today. This is a far cry from a walkout.
        7, 000 out of 53,000 teachers are estimated to be participating.

    2. Pat

      Amen, Norm. I was about to make some of the points you made.
      Teachers want to serve students, but demands on teachers and societal problems make it difficult to provide students with what they need to learn.
      There is a post on Facebook I wish I knew how to share here but I just shared it with Brad on Facebook.

  2. Scout

    I support the teachers who are going. I have too much to do to go right now. It’s IEP season. I have meetings tomorrow. These meetings have to happen on a deadline and involve lots of personnel with very busy schedules so they need to happen as scheduled. And my schedule is so disrupted right now between going to meetings and assessing kids before their meetings that I have missed alot of therapy. I need every minute right now when I’m not in meetings to assess or catch up on therapy. And also I don’t have any personal days left this year, which would make it more complicated to go, if I didn’t have the other issues. I do this job because I think it’s important. It’s kind of hard to stop while the need is there. But I do support the effort. Though I also have doubts if this will work to make the point to the audience they are trying to reach. If it was a different time of year, I might well go. The timing is very bad.

    1. Norm Ivey

      Agreed. Aside from the socialist/union aspects of May 1, IEPs (my bride is a district OT, so I feel your pain) and last minute instruction before standardized testing make it a bad time of year for this. Add to that the fact that the crossover deadline for bills has passed for the year, and I believe an event of this type would have been more effective in March.

      1. Doug Ross

        Well, I’m going to take the outsiders view (but with a very, very, very close relative who just started teaching high school this year). Paying teachers more is fine, they deserve it. But just the mention of IEPs gets me going. How have IEPs improved education? It ends up putting such a burden on the teacher to tailor instruction, testing, discipline to each student. It seems like an impossible task. There’s way too much of that now and the result is that the overall quality of

        And Norm mentioned discipline but it really is one of the major factors from what I can see that impacts the teaching process more than anything else. There are kids who simply will not pay attention, follow directions, and, worse, go out of their way to disrupt classes. The stories I hear on a daily basis are mind boggling compared to what we experienced growing up. But any attempts to address it are met with many time with parents saying you’re harassing their kids or administrators giving the kids far too many “second chances” because they are likely measured on. One undisciplined kid can affect an entire classroom.

        If this is truly a negotiation, then what are teachers and schools willing to compromise on in return for what they want? (Or is this just a list of demands)? What about actual pay for performance so that the best young teachers potentially make more money than an average teacher who gets paid just on tenure and degrees? Can’t we admit that there are great teachers, average teachers, and, yes. shockingly, some bad teachers who have hung around for a long time? They tried that whole certification bonus scheme years ago and it made no difference on the results. Why not give principals the leeway to use their professional judgment to pay the best teachers more and let the district administration do the same for the principals? Pay for merit not tenure.

        And don’t get me started on the amount of money that has been wasted on technology — money that could have gone to paying teachers more. Millions of dollars spent yet no broad improvement in basic things like literacy — something technology SHOULD be great at helping to improve.

        1. Barry

          In Richland two, whIch I suspect isn’t unusual, the district is afraid of some parents, administrators are afraid to make too big a deal of discipline because of the district, and teachers don’t get much support from administrators (administrators istrators don’t know how to handle the discipline issues either)

          My wife teaches in the district. I have more stories than I care to write about discipline issues. Most of the general public, including Brad, has not a clue in the world what some teachers face on an hourly basis during a routine school day. I didn’t believe it myself at first.

        2. Scout

          How have IEPs improved education?

          By helping kids communicate. By helping kids write. By helping kids walk. By helping kids participate and be social. By helping kids read. etc.

          That’s how.

          You are against this?

          1. Bob Amundson

            Doug said, “How have IEPs improved education? It ends up putting such a burden on the teacher to tailor instruction, testing, discipline to each student. It seems like an impossible task.”

            Perhaps he thinks every student receives an IEP. When reviewing foster care cases, I continually ask caseworkers if there is an IEP. I agree with you 100%, Scout.

          2. Mark Stewart

            Thank you, Scout. I’m the father of a child with an IEP. After a very rough couple of years it has been a figurative life saver for him.

            I agree that this day may, I hope, galvanize the public to internalize the importance of education and our teaching professionals. It’s a noble calling and and I salute the dedication I see almost across the board.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I had to look up IEP but yes, one of my kids would not have made it through school without an individualized approach. Something he could only get in PUBLIC school.

              I always snort in derision when people who hate public education call it “one size fits all.” They have it exactly backwards. Only public education has the scale and diversity to help kids who don’t learn by the “one size fits all” approach, which in my broad experience is what small private schools offer — one approach, and you sink or swim…

              1. Norm Ivey

                Little known factoid for the non-teachers out there…

                In some admittedly rare circumstances, public school professionals are required to provide services to students in private school settings.

            2. Barry

              My now 5th harder had an IEP for several years.

              She had a professionally diagnosed anxiety disorder that caused her considerable problems. With her IEP, she thrived at school and has continued to thrive. She has overcome her issue. I didn’t know anything about the process when we started it but it worked wonderully for her.

  3. Bob

    As a wise man once wrote, “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one
    if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin.'”

    I think it’s pretty clear that this state is exhibiting a generational conflict between an old guard, frankly represented by you and the thinking you brought to James Smith’s campaign last year, and a younger, more liberal generation. You saw it with the USC protests last week and this is another reflection of this. And as the state is likely to become more politically competitive in the years ahead as an older, more Republican generation is replaced by a younger, more Democratic generation, the stakes of this generational conflict are going to intensify. We’ve seen it next door in NC and GA, and it’s coming here to SC as well, just slightly later than to those states. But this generational conflict is going to become increasingly common in this state.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and yeah, sure: James Smith’s problem was not being “young and liberal” enough.

      I suppose that’s why he won the Democratic nomination with 62 percent of the vote against two WAY more lefty opponents without a runoff.

      Oh, but wait: I believe Phil and Marguerite were both older than James. Perhaps that was their problem…

  4. bud

    Time for the public to get behind the teachers. As others have mentioned this is about getting the PUBLIC’s attention so they will see how our Republican legislature is treating teachers. Anything that might move the state toward the blue side of the scale is a good thing.

    1. Doug Ross

      Instead of a mass walkout, they should have smaller groups of teachers park themselves outside the offices of the leadership of the Senate and House. Disrupt THEM, not students and parents.

        1. Doug Ross

          Protest the people who are in charge if you aren’t getting what you want. It starts at the top. 7000 teachers waving signs on the state house grounds aren’t going to accomplish anything. Whatever the speaker did wasn’t enough, apparently.

          Instead of saying ” Senate being the Senate”, why not identify the specific people who hindered education reform? It wasn’t the Senate. It was people. People in charge. People who should be held accountable by the teachers — not using the students as pawns.

          1. Brad Warthen

            I’ve tried to explain it to you over and over. The Senate is the Senate. It was this way when all the leaders — and all the senators — were different people. It’s the institution.

            I think maybe your misplaced focus on individuals has something to do with your libertarianism. You know, the belief in the power of the almighty individual. Institutions have little meaning to you, or at least they seem to have little value to you.

            Which is weird, because you’re the one always suggesting that it doesn’t matter that the president of the United States is a malevolent idiot. That’s one position where the nature of the individual matters more than it does anywhere else…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              … and of course my big beef with Trump is the way he degrades the institution, and therefore the country. Because institutions matter. Every previous president has cared about that, in his own way. While this jerk cares only about himself…

              1. Doug Ross

                The first sign of Trump Derangement Syndrome is bringing his name into discussions about topics that are completely unrelated to him. The failure of the SC Senate to do anything is not a Trump era phenomenon. They have been incompetent for as long as I’ve lived in SC.

                Repeat after me: It’s not always about Trump

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And of course I didn’t say, suggest or hint that it was.

                  I was talking about modes of thought — institutions vs. individuals…

                  With the Legislature, you insist on looking at individuals; with Trump you don’t.

                  By the way, the only Trump Derangement Syndrome is the kind where you start going around wearing a MAGA hat, and you think everything he does is OK…

                2. Doug Ross

                  Trump the individual doesn’t make legislation, run the economy, or have any real impact on our day-to-day lives unless he starts an actual war. I’ll hold him accountable for his individual acts. So far, it hasn’t bothered me nearly as much as those of George Bush.

                  The institutions you admire are largely ineffective because of the people who lead them. They make the rules, they make the laws, they suppress new ideas. Hugh Leatherman has done more (or less) to hold back SC than any person or institution. I can’t wait for the day he’s gone.

            2. Doug Ross

              You can keep telling me whatever you want. I know that a first term Senator or a Democrat doesn’t wield the power that Hugh Leatherman or Harvey Peeler has.

              Are you suggesting that the Senate is 100% in lockstep in their desire to oppose education reform?

              Here’s the Senate Education committee. How about starting with them for protests? 17 PEOPLE who are incapable of helping improve the educational system (including your buddy Vincent Sheheen, who apparently lacks the leadership to influence his colleagues to get off their butts).

              Hembree, Greg,
              Chairman Setzler, Nikki G.
              Matthews, John W., Jr.
              Rankin, Luke A.
              Peeler, Harvey S., Jr.
              Jackson, Darrell
              Grooms, Lawrence K. “Larry”
              Malloy, Gerald
              Hutto, Brad
              Sheheen, Vincent A.
              Nicholson, Floyd
              Young, Tom, Jr.
              Turner, Ross
              Rice, Rex F.
              Talley, Scott
              Massey, A. Shane
              Cash, Richard J.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Doug, so that you can get a sense of how much more complex these things are than the way you’re portraying them (and more complicated than I’m putting it, since I keep going “blame the Senate”), here’s a column Cindi wrote that examines what’s going on from Greg Hembree’s perspective…

                I point to that since you bring up his name. I also do so to disabuse you of the notion that everything that happens is the work of Hugh Leatherman…

            3. Barry

              I actually agree with Doug.

              As a Senate Page in the late 1980s, I saw groups of motorcycles riders descend on the state House, walk right into Senator offices, and get their way on helmet laws, etc.

              Senators hated the disruption and quite frankly were nervous around groups of motorcycle riders in leather outfits. I watched it. I was there. They intimidated them because they walked right up to them in their office, face to face, and Senators HATE direct confrontation.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                That’s an interesting perspective. My own take on it is that what the bikers were demanding meshed nicely with lawmakers’ libertarian tendencies.

                Remember, this was the last state (or close to last) to make it illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol in the car…

                1. Barry

                  It did in some instances, but they also intimidated them. I watched Senators scramble toward stairwells when the word got out a group was heading up the elevator.

                  They hate direct confrontation.

                2. Bob Amundson

                  This might have something to do with what I did earlier in life, but I will gladly confront, especially about ideas, if I think the confrontation adds value. I hope that as I’ve aged, I have become better at deciding when the confrontation may add value.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Let me refine what I said…

                    When I said “who doesn’t,” I was thinking about pointless, no-win confrontation.

                    One can’t reason with a biker who’s ticked off at the idea someone might make him wear a helmet. There is nothing to be gained from such an exchange, especially when there’s a group of them, and they’ve come for one purpose, which is to exhibit their adamant resistance, with none of them wishing to give ground in the presence of his cohorts.

                    It’s not exactly like appearing on “Firing Line” to debate a political point…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Also, it’s hard to win such an argument even in your own mind.

                      When confronted with people who are furious that you might want to protect them from horrific brain injury, you might start wondering yourself whether such brains are worth protecting…

                3. Doug Ross

                  “Who doesn’t?”

                  More like “Who shouldn’t?”

                  Public servants, maybe? People elected to be the voice of constituents?

                  But then if there isn’t a free meal, free drinks, or tickets to a USC football game involved, it might be harder to get face time with a legislator.

                4. Doug Ross

                  Educate, don’t legislate. As soon as you make it a law with criminal / legal penalties to not do something, you are going beyond protecting the individual.

                5. Barry

                  The point is

                  If teachers play the political game that reps and senators expect, they’ll get exactly what they’ve got so far- a bill stuck in the senate.

                  Protest, knock on some doors at the state house and directly confront face to face and watch the senators and reps hide try to hide out in the stairwells like cowards.

              2. Doug Ross

                Start with Hugh Leatherman. I’d love to speak with him. I’ll bring my checkbook.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You’d probably never see eye-to-eye with Hugh.

                  I’d like to start you off with people you’d like, such as Tom Davis, Shane Massey, or Mandy. Or maybe my rep, Micah Caskey.

                  You’d find that they’re probably some of the most approachable people you’ve ever met. And if you followed them around, you’d be stunned at how available they make themselves. That is probably the most amazing thing to me about people who run for political office — they give up their lives to an astounding extent. It’s one of the reasons I’d hesitate to run for office — their time is never their own. Their constituents think they have the right to call them all hours, to demand they be at all sorts of neighborhood meetings and such — and they agree. They go way, WAY out of their way to be there for people, and to listen to them.

                  In other words, they’re basically the opposite of the way you characterized them above. I can’t think of anyone in any other walk of life who is more open and available to people than the average elected official.

                  In an evolutionary sense, the electoral process selects for that trait. If you’re not willing to be available to people, you don’t get elected. And certainly not re-elected.

                  If I ever did get elected, I’d probably be a one-termer — not as a result of making a term-limit pledge, but because I don’t think I could make myself go to enough meetings and rubber-chicken dinners…

      1. Norm Ivey

        Not a walkout, Doug. We took a day off.

        Many teachers did hang around to try to speak to lawmakers after the initial rally.

        1. Doug Ross

          It was a walkout that led to schools being closed. There was no way enough subs could be found to fill in. And what about teachers (some I know) who did not support the action? Why were they prevented from teaching — especially those who might have exams coming up next week?

          I support higher pay for teachers. I don’t support them using students as pawns. How many of the teachers will be protesting during the summer? Nothing stops them from having a group of teachers out there every day in July.

          I’m also a little troubled by how SC Ed got the cell phone numbers of teachers to send text messages to teachers. That isn’t public information, is it? What database did they have access to?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I’m guessing that’s probably an opt-in thing. Teachers probably signed up to be contacted. I don’t know of any other way it would work…

  5. Mr. Smith

    This event is the opposite of an “abandonment of duty.”
    To the contrary: It shows a genuine appreciation of the broader duty an educator has to the community.

    Support the event.

    And just by the by:
    May Day celebrations predate socialism by centuries, even millennia.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, but I don’t think this involves a maypole. I have the impression it’s intended to have a political nature, which suggests other associations. And as Norm says, add in the red shirts, and…

      I find myself wondering how many teachers are conscious of these things, as Norm is. How many are going, hey, wait a minute…

      1. Barry

        I don’t buy it, people see what they want to see.

        Heck, John Bolton was encouraging protests in the streets of Venezuela for today- May 1st. Bolton isn’t much on communism symbols.

      2. Norm Ivey

        I have no doubt that some of the core group of teacher organizers are aware of the symbolism of May Day. Whether that was a conscious choice or not, I don’t know.

      3. Mr. Smith

        Around the civilized world, May Day is also set aside (by public holiday in many places) as a time to remind the community of the needs and interests of labor. Labor Day in the US, by contrast, is just another empty, pointless day off (for some people). So using this day to focus on at least one group of working people – whose work affects every part of the community – is altogether appropriate.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You DO see the political problem this represents, don’t you? I didn’t have to spend the last nine years with a marketing firm to understand branding.

          Based on reporting I saw, there was a triumphalist, “Look at this crowd! We can MAKE them do what we want!” spirit running through many in that crowd. An excerpt:

          South Carolina teachers put state lawmakers on notice Wednesday: Work to improve the teaching profession and fix working conditions inside schools, or find yourself out of a job after 2020, they said.

          “Either join us or move out of the way,” Blythewood High School Lisa Ellis, founder of grassroots group SCforED, yelled into a microphone, broadcasting to the swarm of red-shirted teachers and their allies who swarmed the State House on Wednesday to demand high pay, smaller class sizes, more money for the classroom and an end to never-ending testing demands….

          You’re not going to MAKE them do anything. You have to persuade. So think about what’s likely to win your audience over, and what’s likely to put it off.

          The only thing working in the organizers’ favor is that maybe enough lawmakers are ignorant about the symbolism of the Cold War that they won’t notice, or won’t care…

          1. Mr. Smith

            My point is, I don’t think the date the event took place should be an issue – and likely isn’t, save maybe for those folks who wouldn’t approve of teachers protesting no matter which day of the year it was. Shame on them if they see or try to paint the event as a gathering of “socialists.”

            Besides, the Cold War ended over a generation ago and neither Russia nor China is “red” anymore. So, yeah, I think you’re showing both your age and an excessive concern with appearances.

            1. Doug Ross

              Correct. The number of people under age 50 who could even make a passing connection between the date and Russia is probably very low.

              Especially if they were educated in South Carolina public schools.

              It’s a joke!

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Doug and Mr. Smith,

                Y’all are both pointing to something that is a huge peeve of mine, and always has been — even when I was far younger than you. 🙂

                I don’t understand people who don’t understand historical references. Or perhaps I should say, I can’t respect them. Especially people who don’t understand things that JUST HAPPENED — which is far worse than not being able to tell me what happened at Agincourt.

                And I’ve been thinking more and more about that lately, because as much ignorance as there was around me of recent history when I was young, the problem has gotten much, much worse lately.

                I started to write a blog post about it last week, but got sidetracked.

                The thing that provoked me that day was an oped piece in the NYT about reading, and why so few kids want to do it. This was about literature more than history, and it said at one point kids have “learned that reading was a slog and that literature consisted of books about characters who looked and sounded nothing like them, living in worlds that were nothing like their own…”

                That presumed narrowness in young people really set me off. Of course, part of it was based in my kneejerk reaction against Identity Politics — that part about “characters who looked and sounded nothing like them.”

                But the problem is much bigger than that. The thing about history arises from a sort of temporal chauvinism rather than one based in race or gender or culture: a lack of curiosity about anything that isn’t happening RIGHT NOW, right in front of you.

                It’s always been there, but ! think it has suddenly gotten much worse.

                And I wonder if it’s technology that’s done it. I love technology, especially the more rapid forms, such as Twitter. But then I’m able to enjoy them while at the same time having a brain that was formed before these toys were available to us.

                And I wonder if we’re living in a time when human evolution is having an insanely rapid acceleration. I suspect that normally, the human brain would take thousands of years to change as much as our cognition has in the past 20 years — even in the past 10.

                And I think all sorts of unsettling things around us — such as the election of Donald Trump, and similar political developments elsewhere in the developed world that would have been hard to imagine a very few years ago — are related to this sudden shift in cognition, one that we’ve had trouble adjusting to.

                I suspect that all sorts of things are manifestations of this sudden change that our brains and emotions have had trouble adapting to — because in fact it’s NOT evolution (he says, suddenly changing his theory in mid-thought). It’s a sudden demand being put on brains that have NOT evolved, because it takes a lot longer for them to do that. So we have:

                — Terrorism, and such bizarre things as kids wanting to leave civilization to go join ISIL.
                — Incel “culture,” if you can call it that, with all the dysfunction it leads to.
                — Mass shootings that don’t quite qualify as “terrorism” because of the lack of a clear political purpose.
                — The EXTREME political polarization that is sort of the new racism, with parents dreading the idea of a child marrying one of THOSE people.
                — The related death of any sort of consensus about what a FACT is, which makes political deliberation and synthesis impossible.

                Can we adjust to it and recover our equilibrium, settle down and become more rational again? I don’t know.

                I need to write that blog post. But actually, maybe it’s more of a book…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard between two kids walking in front of me when I was on one of my daily walks around the USC campus.

                  One of them was vehemently displaying the temporal chauvinism to which I react so negatively, expressing his inability to understand why anyone would try to make him study history.

                  The other boy, bless him, defended history, with the usual assertions that if you’re to understand the world you live in now, you have to understand how we got here.

                  Then the first boy said, OK, but what about stuff that happened five hundred years ago?

                  Sadly, the second boy gave in, agreeing with his friend that no, there was no good reason to learn about things that happened THAT long ago… He was all like, let’s not be ridiculous about it…

                  Goodbye Columbus. You too, Julius Caesar. Et tu, Brute

                2. Mr. Smith

                  Try this thought experiment: Do you believe that in 200-500 years’ time the Holocaust will have the same historical weight that it has had for us over the last 70 years? I doubt you can honestly claim it will. Instead, it likely will have roughly the same place in the public mind as, say, the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre or the Thirty Years War do for us today. It’s not a matter of simple ignorance or awareness. Rightly or wrongly, such is the nature of historical memory.

                  To bring this back on point: I hope you’re not saying that the public SHOULD have images of Red Square pop into their heads when they think of the teacher’s May Day event. That would be an act of historical distortion as bad or worse than the historical ignorance you’re complaining about.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    The Soviet Union — and for that matter, the international Marxist movement associated with May Day — wasn’t 200-500 years ago.

                    And I thought what I was saying was clear — that on top of the fact that a demonstration was a bad idea (unless it had a MUCH more focused message, and maybe even then), the date was a poor choice for influencing the conservatives who run our state…

            2. Barry

              The ONLY people whining (and they are whining) about the march being on May 1 are people that didn’t like the fact teachers were marching at all.

              They’d come up with whatever silly excuse they could to look down on it, even one as silly as pointing out it was on May 1st.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                That’s right, Barry. I don’t think they should have marched. I think it was ill-timed and will not help the cause they espouse, which I espouse myself.

                If you read what I wrote, I was quite clear on that point. The date was just an unfortunate detail that aggravated the problem…

  6. Brad Warthen

    I see them gathering. The crowd growing before the north steps has grown rapidly in a short while.

    Looks like they’re gonna vent their frustration. If they don’t they’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse…

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    A good one from our own Lynn Teague:

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In a state like South Carolina, where we underfund everything important, there is always a way better way to use that money, a way that will benefit our state far more, than handing individuals an amount that pays for a couple to go out to a movie and get a soda and popcorn, but not enough to take the kids or pay the babysitter…

    2. Norm Ivey

      Being out of the classroom, I spend very little of my own money now. In my 22 years in the classroom, I estmate I spent a few thousand, especially after I switched to teaching science. Teachers get an annual $250 check to help defray some of those costs. I’ve never heard one say that they had money left over.

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    And thank you for ‘splaining this, Mandy, lest the 10,000 get all indignant. Or rather, MORE indignant:

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And what would you say, anyway? Something like “Hey, we did our job in the House. I assume the demonstration is about the Senate.”?

      1. Doug Ross

        So when you have a dumb institution like the House where member are restricted on what they can say, why doesn’t someone change it? The institution is a model of inefficiency yet those inside of it just adapt to the stupidity.

        We say over and over that the legislature is failing to do its job yet for some reason think things will get better if we keep it exactly like it is with the same old codgers running the place.

  9. Phillip

    It’s hard to say what if any concrete results will emerge from today’s rally, but it had to be a morale-builder and boost of energy for SC teachers to see such a big crowd (and not only comprised of teachers but, as I can attest from our family being there, parents and kids) and a strong message sent to legislators. I don’t know if ultimately it does any good but I don’t think you can say that NOT rallying would have helped their cause any more, either. It was a great, peaceful event and the message that was coming forth from the various speakers was that this is about far, far more than just teacher salaries.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Phillip, I congratulate y’all for caring enough to be there.

      But what IS the message? What results are desirable?

      Do the teachers like what the House did or not like it? And how would they improve it? Are they unhappy with the Senate? If so, is this about encouraging more action when they come back next year? If so, why have the event now? Are the effects supposed to carry over?

      I’m just trying to draw the line from A to B, where A is the demonstration and B is the desired result…

      1. Doug Ross

        Again, the whole idea that teachers would have to wait until next year to see any change is ludicrous. Arbitrary work schedules, inane rules of procedure, excessive legal wrangling ..

        This is why I am a libertarian. I don’t support stupid.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You want to talk crazy ideas, how about the one of shortening the session a couple of years back? Year after year, they demonstrated their inability to meet the state’s needs in a five-month session, so they cut it to less than four months. Some think this is progress.

          1. Doug Ross

            Who did that? Or was that just another case of an institution working as a giant organism, self-modifying without any human intervention.

            SOMEONE put forth the idea. SOMEONE made sure it got to a vote. SOME PEOPLE voted for it. Blame those specific people if you think it was a crazy idea.

              1. Doug Ross

                I ask this in all seriousness – do you refrain from naming actual people because you know them and don’t want to risk harming any relationship you might have with them? Or do you seriously believe that the legislature has no hierarchy, no leadership, no small group of members who control what bills are advanced?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  No. I just don’t think in those terms. When the Senate or House does X, I hold them all responsible, for good or ill.

                  The way my mind works, it would be kind of silly to, for instance, look back on the decision to shorten the session several years ago and say, “Goldang that Joe Blow for introducing that bill!”

                  Because they voted for it as a body. Also, the sentiment that led to it was a widespread one that’s been around my whole adult life.

                  Of course, maybe that’s a bad example. I don’t think it was EVIL or anything to shorten the session; I just think it’s dumb.

                  The move to do that has come from government-efficiency types (“We can save the taxpayers money”) and anti-government types (“The less time they’re in session, the less harm they can do!”).

                  Of course, I disagree with the second group’s outlook on life. As for the first group, I think it’s great to save money, as long as the job gets done. Which it doesn’t.

                  Of course, it goes both ways. Somehow, they fail to find time to do good things, but they can sometimes whip through bad ideas so fast it can make your head spin…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    And of course, when it’s ABOUT the personalities — or about what one or two people have done — I write about the personalities.

                    Such as when Leatherman managed to cling to power despite Shane Massey’s best efforts.

                    But when the issue is the IDEA, or what the entire body has done on an issue, I’m going to focus on the overall action. Because that’s what is important.

                    It’s sort of a personality flaw of mine, perhaps — I’m simply more interested in ideas than I am in people.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I think I’ve pointed this out before.

                  Early in our married life, my wife shared a truism often stated by her mother: There are two kinds of people — people people and things people.

                  And I thought yes, that’s true. But then I thought a bit more, and was pretty sure I was neither.

                  She said yes, there were exceptions: A few were ideas people.

                  I gladly donned that mantle, a perfect one for someone with intellectual pretensions — something I was prone to before I lived long enough to realize how little I know (and having thus congratulated myself, I must admit that yes, I still frequently succumb to that temptation). But I’ve often had occasion to feel bad about the fact that I’m not more of a people person. I think they’re the best kind, the only kind — the kind God wants us to be…

      2. Norm Ivey

        I think the message is frustration. It’s not like all the concerns teachers have raised–pay, class size, testing, funding, working conditions and the rest– suddenly became a problem this year. It’s been that way for decades, and nothing’s changed.

        SCforEd gets their energy from social media and the Millennials. They’re impatient with the status quo. Without those two factors, today would not have happened. McMaster didn’t help today when he said “Hold on. We’re coming.” This is a generation that looks at the world and sees how quickly things can change, and then they jump up and go do it.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Hence AOC and others who don’t understand why the world doesn’t do what they want RIGHT NOW (stamps foot indignantly). Because, you know, they TOLD us what they want.

          But it’s not the impatience that gets me. It’s the way they act like they’re THE FIRST PEOPLE EVER TO THINK ABOUT social justice, the environment, etc. They lack… perspective…

          My generation was supposed to be the most self-absorbed and self-referential ever, and I was not immune to childish impatience, but I think I at least understood enough about the history of ideas not to think we had invented all the good ones…

          1. Norm Ivey

            I don’t get the impression that they feel like they invented these ideas. They just believe they have the power to change things. They see older generations who can’t or won’t fix things, and they expect us to get out of their way. They believe in the “fierce urgency of now”.

            1. Brad Warthen

              “and they expect us to get out of their way”

              Presumptuous little buggers, aren’t they? I give them THIS (makes Sicilian gesture) for their wanting us out of their way…

  10. Bart

    My daughter started public school in Virginia when Miles Godwin was governor. He stopped the pay-as-you-go method of funding public schools. He successfully secured bonding for public schools and within a couple of years, Virginia public schools had made vast improvements in education across the state. Our daughter went to one of the first open classroom concept schools. The class size was small and individual attention given to each student.

    When we moved back to SC and she enrolled in public school, she was about 3 grades ahead of her classmates based on the curriculum and class material. She was bored out of her mind and it showed. She paid for it by the taunting from her classmates who thought she was an “elitist” because she was so far ahead.

    My point is that based on conversations with parents over the years, South Carolina has not done one damn thing to bring the state above the mid-level rankings. We still struggle to stay off the very bottom of the scale.

    Not long ago while at the supermarket, I overheard 2 teachers discussing needs for their classrooms. I asked one of them what she needed and she replied that sometimes even the most basic needs were not available and she usually paid for them out of her salary. I gave her $20 (all I had at the time) and she cried.

    I don’t have any objection to paying higher taxes if the taxes are used for educational purposes that provide a strong “basic” education, not a social experiment under the guise of an education. If one cannot master the basics of “reading, writing, and arithmetic”, how can we expect them to move forward to higher degrees of each discipline? If the teachers have to worry about supplies and discipline, especially discipline, how can they be effective for the majority of their students? If they have to worry about parents complaining about their children being held accountable when the parents fail to do so, how can we expect them to do a better job? If a child is disruptive, send the child home or to a class for disruptive students.

    Damn, when I was in public school and one of the students was disruptive, he or she was sent to the principal’s office and the appropriate discipline meted out. Sometimes it meant expelling the student into the care of the responsible parent(s). One of my teachers would send us to the auditorium and we would get a zero for the day. Yes, I did spend a class period or two in the auditorium.

    I don’t have the answers to the problems teachers face today but when our legislative body fails to respond in a positive manner, then the problem goes back to the community as a whole. After all, they are the ones who vote them into office. If education does not become a higher priority, then South Carolina will continue to occupy the lower rungs of the education ladder.

  11. Norm Ivey

    Today was fun.

    Teachers bring joy to everything they do. I don’t care if it’s a faculty meeting, a professional development session, or a rally at the state house, they just know how to have fun. There was humor, creativity and energy everywhere you turned. I don’t know if that’s a characteristic of other professions, but I love it about this profession.

    I was with the group that started on Senate Street at the State Department of Education. It was pretty much a party atmosphere. Three musicians–band directors, I suspect–provided us with some New Orleans jazz as we walked to the state house. There are a lot of comings and goings in this profession because teachers change schools, and on every side we were surrounded by reunions consummated with hugs and laughter.

    I have no illusions that our legislature will do anything this year, or that they’ll do much next year. At least, for the first time in years, some of the concerns of educators are getting some attention. I hope we can build on the momentum.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m glad it was fun, and affirming. But please understand that I mean you and you cause the absolute best when I recommend against repeating the experience.

      I realize that in this millennial and social media-driven Brave New World, those of us who have experience observing the General Assembly are regarded as knowing nothing. In the Age of Trump, no one need respect expertise. But seriously, I would not have these things weekly.

      Social media… it’s so seductive. Twitter is, anyway. But as much as I’m drawn to it, I see the rocks and shoals. Good thing the foremast jacks have tied me so securely to the mast. Oh, but the sirens sing so sweetly!…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I’m concerned about next steps. I was surprised by the size of the crowd–I thought we’d be doing great if we had 4000, and RCSD put the number at 10K. They’d be hard pressed to repeat that performance.

        SCforEd is a grass roots movement with no regular source of income, and pretty much a self-appointed group of leaders. They’ve done an amazing job, especially since they’ve only been around for a few months, but they’re all full-time teachers, and they’re not going to be able to sustain this level of energy indefinitely. I perceive some tension between them and out two professional organizations (PSTA and SCEA). The associations have infrastructure, money and paid lobbyists. SCforEd has none of that. It seems to me at some point, one of the established groups is going to have to fold this movement into its own efforts.

        1. Barry

          Yep and the social media group organized this amazing rally while the group with the paid lobbyist looked like the grandparents screaming about Elvis and his hips.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Just before I went to Ireland, my committee of the Community Relations Council held a forum on education reform, focusing largely on the House bill, which had not yet passed.

          I invited Mandy Powers Norrell and Micah Caskey, to have both a Democrat and a Republican from the House. I also brought in Sherry East, head of the SCEA. And we had Chris Hass, a Richland 2 teacher and representative of SC for Ed.

          Dr. Hass did a fine job, except for one thing: He didn’t seem to hear what the lawmakers were saying they were doing in order to accomplish the things teachers wanted. I don’t remember now the specific points, but I got that overall impression.

          And it seemed to encapsulated the relationship, or non-relationship, between SC for Ed and the legislators.

          This year, it has kind of gone like this: The House sets forth a proposal. The teachers shout, “You’re not listening to us!” The lawmakers completely overhaul the bill in order to address the teachers’ concerns (and eventually pass it overwhelmingly). I had spoken with Mandy a couple of weeks before the forum, and she was particularly proud that they had managed to amend to bill to give teachers almost everything they wanted. (And “almost” is key. No one with a working understanding and respect for representative democracy expects to get everything.)

          And the teachers still shout, “You’re not listening to us! Our demands are falling on deaf ears!”

          But often, it seem that the SC for Ed folks are the ones whose ears are not functioning.

          My view of this rally would have been more positive if the group had addressed reality — if they had complained that the Senate hasn’t passed the package, or if they had acknowledged what the House has done, but pointed to specific places where they believe the House bill falls short.

          Instead, the quotes I see in the reporting suggest that absolutely no one in the State House has paid ANY attention to the situation, has been stonewalling teachers and not making the slightest effort to address their concerns. (And by God, we’re gonna MAKE ’em listen!)

          Which is demonstrably, substantially false…

          1. Barry

            You are obviously taking the legislators side of things pretty much at face value.

            I’m not going to argue with you about it. As the husband of a teacher who sees it first hand, I think you are flat out wrong and I’ll leave it at that.

  12. Harry Harris

    I thought the the Governor’s comment that the rally sent the wrong message was typical of someone who thinks he understands a problem, but doesn’t. The rally sent the teachers’ message, not the one he wants to hear. The message is largely “We’ve had enough.”
    I spent the last 8 years that I was involved in education as an outsider trying to highlight the issue of teacher morale, with little result other than some head-nodding by administrators and state-level leaders. I gave position papers to Inez Tennenbaum, Jim Rex, and Vince Sheheen while they were campaigning for office – head nodding, no real attention.
    Teachers are finally fed-up enough, concerned for the future enough, and emboldened enough to take a step toward the kind of risk that real change often requires.
    Over 70 years of research has made it clear that the morale of the workforce is the key factor in productivity in any endeavor. How can policy-makers repeatedly take actions and inactions that lower the morale of educators and then complain about results? From bad-mouthing, to poor-mouthing, to ill-conceived “accountability” measures to underfunding of benefits and retirement, it has continued since the early 1970’s. Teachers are worn down by “test ’em til they drop”, eat your lunch on the fly, raise test scores or else, and jump through the next hoop without questioning.
    The broadness of the concerns expressed by the rally group shows their purpose – we want action, not head-nodding.

  13. Pingback: Where does South Carolina's teacher labor movement go after 10,000 person march? | City of Charleston

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