Schools Reopen — And Teachers Fight For Their Lives…

All of the teachers I spoke to agreed that this moment, of new fears but also renewed activism, presents opportunities. For one thing, Mizialko said, “We can cease all standardized testing of our students right now and no harm will come to them. In fact, we can reclaim a great deal of time that has been stolen from students’ learning and devote it to the kind of learning experience that children should have.” The power that teachers have been building, in part by making the kinds of demands that parents and students also want, has brought them to a place, Prosen said, where they have political credibility to thread the incredibly difficult needle they’ve been given. And that credibility, Davis Gates added, allows them to think ahead about what schools should look like when they reopen.

This struggle is going to last much longer than the few weeks of school openings and throughout the year. It is, Mizialko said, a bigger fight against business as usual, a fight against a defunded public sphere and a world of low-wage jobs, evictions, poverty, and racist violence. Children are suffering during the pandemic not because their teachers have failed to offer themselves as sacrificial victims. They are suffering, Davis Gates said, because they are being evicted, being brutalized, their family members are sick, and because there has been a decades-long assault on public schools. And in that fight, when teachers are blamed for students’ purported failures, teachers are calling for a solution that challenges a capitalist system that puts returning to work and profit-making above Black lives and in fact, everyone’s life. Schools cannot solve the problems of capitalism, but teachers are hoping to use this moment to make a difference.

Sarah Jaffe is a reporting fellow at Type Media Center and the author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt and the forthcoming Work Won’t Love You Back (January 2021, Bold Type Books). You can find her on Twitter @sarahljaffe and on the web at sarahljaffe.com.

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