Monday, September 5, 2011

What OEA can do to stop the violence?

Dear Betty and OEA Colleagues,

OEA can be an organization that encourages its members to view and treat Oakland's communities with respect.
There are many avenues to help these families and our greater community through contributions and political work.  As educators we can attempt to ameliorate this unacceptable, violent environment by keeping our core as educators for social justice.  We can and should offer a positive, safe, nurturing learning environment for all.  We can establish caring and trusting relationships with students and families, and advocate for educational, health, and social services that they need.  We can encourage students by being role models of civility, empathy, and respect for our diverse communities because children learn from what we do rather than from what we say. Our charge is to teach, so we have to offer well crafted and thoughtful learning opportunities.  These should cover the full range of subjects (including health and safety) so that our students can see that learning is both a mirror of their own worth and a window to the greater society.  A well rounded education can give children tools to forge productive lives that benefit themselves, their families, their communities and their world.  We should always ask ourselves what have we done each day to develop informed citizens of the world, not what skill or test taking trick was presented.  Young people with knowledge, skills, self-respect, goals, and hopes often make good choices.

OEA can continue to move the conversation back to learning and away from the relentless violence against children due to constant testing and silly programs.
Currently, schools are being turned into places of ignorance because there are some who want to produce, for the most part, young people who know nothing about science, civics, politics, languages, writing, health, current affairs, history, economics, geography, mathematics, or the arts so that they remain ignorant and powerless regarding the profound issues they will face as adults.  In our classrooms, among colleagues, across schools, and throughout the district teachers hold the key to pushing back against these forces that aim to make schools part of the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  The constant prodding, assessing and sorting of our children - while denying them knowledge, resources, healthy activities, and the arts - are pervasive, daily forms of violence against their humanity.  Only a few of Oakland's children, those who have managed to "prove" themselves worthy of education, have access to the base program which children in privileged communities receive just because they are children.

OEA can keep teaching and learning a high priority issue in the midst of all the mayhem.
When I began my career in the seventies there was a saying that "Teaching is a subversive activity" and that still remains the case. Those who interfere with schools attempt to keep educators distracted with structural issues as if form should not follow function - this year it's school closures.  Closures, class size, salaries, working conditions, and benefits are all of great importance.  However, addressing those issues should not mask the importance of our professional responsibilities toward students.  Perhaps OEA could be one of the organizations that would provide supportive fora for teachers to collaborate on restoring the pervasiveness of learning, not testing, to students in Oakland's classrooms.  That might be one contribution toward reducing the traumatic violence in Oakland.

I miss you all,

Muriel Hall Ayanaba, Retired