On April 18, teachers across Florida dressed in red and assembled in front of their schools. Then they “walked in” en masse to show their support for public education. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge supporter of public education. But I did not participate. What do I think of the walk-in?
Well, I learned about the walk-in when I attended a League of Women Voters education symposium on April 13. The speakers discussed all the dreadful things that Tallahassee has already done and is continuing to do to public education. With due respect, I observed that we are not having a policy debate with earnest folks who just happen to have a different point of view; we are in a battle for the future of education, and the Republicans who run Tallahassee aren’t moved by facts and evidence. They don’t care about letters to the editor, or blogs, or symbolic gestures like the walk-in. They don’t even care about public opinion or the will of the people. They don’t have to care anymore because they’ve completely gerrymandered the state (and, FYIGM, all the snowbirds vote R to keep their taxes low).
I observed that while we wave signs, they’re dismantling public education and replacing it with a hodgepodge of for-profit charters and voucher-funded private schools. The only reason they haven’t already drowned public education in the bathtub is that they don’t have the capacity to absorb 2.7 million students. But they are building it and building it quickly.
Does anybody think Jason Fischer, Aaron Bean or Clay Yarborough—local Republican politicians who funneled millions to their super-donors’ pet charter schools—care if some teachers wear red and symbolically walk into their schools to show support of education?
How about the politicians in Republican-controlled Tallahassee, who would sooner give teachers guns (something the overwhelming majority of teachers don’t want) than a raise? They couldn’t care less. This session has been particularly bad for public education. Now that Governor Ron DeSantis has stacked the state supreme court—he even brags about it—the Republicans are done with their death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy; they’ve graduated to using a sledgehammer.
I am reminded of Sean Connery’s famous quote from The Untouchables: “You wanna get Capone? Here’s how to get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I’m offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?”
Teachers and supporters of public education are playing the game by the rules, and while Tallahassee has thrown the game on the floor, stomped the board and smashed the pieces while spouting your-mama’s-so-fat jokes and poking us in the eye.
No, I don’t think much of the walk-in. It’s what nice, polite people do, people who are afraid to get their hands dirty. But the truth is, if we’re going to have any chance at saving public education, we need to get down in the mud and fight back.
What does a fight look like? Florida teachers need to put the red shirts back in the closet and claim their right to strike, as teachers in other states have. Maybe, just maybe, that’s something that would make Tallahassee take notice.
Guerrieri is a Duval County public school teacher.