West Virginia's 20,000 public school teachers went on a nine-day strike over their pay and faced down the state legislature. Good for them.
In my native state, Kentucky, there have been extensive protests over a bill in the legislature that would reduce benefits for retired teachers. The governor, Matt Bevin, expressed himself last week: "If they get what they wish for, they will not have a pension system for younger people who are still working. And that to me is remarkably selfish and shortsighted."
I stand with the teachers.
Coming from what one would discreetly call modest circumstances, I can see that a good deal of what I am today I owe to underpaid Kentucky teachers. I entered the first grade in a school that had eight grades in a building with five classrooms. One grade studied while the teacher taught the other, and then reversed. But my fourth-grade teacher, Frances Dorsey, opened up the wider world to me. In high school, Lynda McKee drew me out of my introversion with public speaking and drama, encouraging my writing in her senior English class.
It was the instruction and encouragement of underpaid public school teachers that enabled me to come out of Elizaville, Kentucky, and become a National Merit semi-finalist, go on to become an honors graduate of Michigan State, earn a master's degree from Syracuse, and eventually become as an editor part of the East Coast liberal media establishment.
Some of my classmates went on to become underpaid public school teachers themselves, and I stand with them.
We live in a time when legislatures focused on austerity are unwilling to fund public education, when we have a national secretary of education who appears neither to support nor understand public education.
But public education, adequately funded and properly structured, is the means to achieve our future. Neglecting it, making teachers bear the brunt of misguided austerity measures, will shortchange students, leaving them less ready, less prepared to take on adult responsibilities in the world developing around us. It's bad judgment and bad policy. It is, to apply the words properly, selfish and shortsighted.
Stand with the teachers.