If Teaching is My Superpower, then Education is “Ours”

If Teaching is My Superpower, then Education is “Ours”

by Farrah Alexander 

Executive Board Notes 2/13/23

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. “ – Nelson Mandela

Education can be used to change the world.  Which makes us educators, great agents of change.  What can we learn from great reformers & agents of change like Mr. Mandela?   While the word choice of “weapon” is a bit ill-suited, Mandela’s words ring true. Particularly after the Executive Board’s meeting on this fine Monday evening of 2/13/23. 

The one and only resolution brought to the floor this night was a resolution calling for “support of just, respectful, and safe public safety practices for all”.  In Shanker Hall, in a striking & profound silence, the members of the Exec Board sat rapt as union brothers & sisters talked about their very own personal experiences, anxieties and fears when it came to the systemic barriers to safety & security of themselves, their family members, friends & students. 

While I think it is important to highlight the positive events as well as the various issues we discuss at the EB meeting – I think it more important to focus on this one resolution because of the powerful voices of those who rose to motivate and support it.  There was clearly a feeling in that room influenced by very personal events, feelings, and experiences.   Experiences that are traumatic and cumulative and are conjured up each time an awful instance of police brutality is shown again & again in our communities.

Janella Hinds stood to motivate this resolution.  Citing the 1000 lives lost at the hands of law enforcement in the last 12 months, abuses of authority & power & the need for policy change, ongoing education, and open and honest dialogue. Tanisha Franks rose in support as well, her voice breaking and needing to take a pause while speaking about the systemic problems of racism, violence, and trauma.  Listening to her, I was struck by her ability to speak on such an unbelievably horrific issue without shying away from all the typical areas people usually do.  Maybe that seems obvious to some- that she would of course speak on racism, violence, systemic issues but there are so many things left unsaid in these discussions.  She spoke on the school to prison pipeline, on the fact that officers in the Tyre Nichols case were also black causing “confusion” from the masses in these discussions.

Ilona Nanay, Amy Arundell, and Rashad Brown also rose in support as well. Ilona spoke of taking it a “step further” by eliminating NYPD in schools & promoting restorative justice.   Amy highlighted the way in which the resolution was written since it felt important to acknowledge our members have family that are members in law enforcement & that this is a human rights issue that cannot be ignored by other human beings.   Rashad Brown talked about our communities from neighborhoods to nations refusing to learn from high profile instances of police violence & brutality like Rodney King and George Floyd.  

Racism is a public health issue and our brothers and sisters, as do we, want police brutality to stop.

In the words of Tanisha Franks…if you aren’t against police brutality & systemic racism in all its forms, then what are you? For?

And, what can we do as educators? As a start, we can educate.

Let’s talk about the positive effects of education (unsure how that can be spun into kowtowing to Mr. Mulgrew but won’t be surprised).   It has become increasingly clear that education is the most powerful tool for promoting empowerment and freedom. Education is necessary to advance in ANY situation.  Education provides innumerable benefits not only to the individuals receiving it — these educated and empowered individuals go on to create ripples of positive change in their communities, societies, and ultimately the world as a whole.

Education decreases poverty, promotes health, closes the gender gap, minimizes malnutrition, provides economic growth and at its basic level (as in the name) educates & informs.   At its altruistic core, education can change an individual by developing a positive attitude, empathy, & emotional intelligence.  Education instills a sense of responsibility & morality.  It ultimately (we hope) betters a human, makes them a better person.  Education builds trust, harmony, collaboration, and cooperation in society.  Education promotes a sense of collective responsibility & helps us build a society that is based on fairness & justice.  

 I have been a teacher, educator for 25 years and chapter leader in 2 districts, in 2 schools for the past 7 years.  My goals have always been to educate and to learn.  And besides getting to educate my students and their families, I try to educate my members by motivating them to seek & gain knowledge about and around their contract & their rights so they can work in an environment that best supports their students and their communities.

Just like other elected positions, a Chapter Leader and the like are elected to do a job that; much like let’s say a president of a union or other political positions such as council members, mayors, governors, etc., we trust the people we put in these positions to do their jobs.   To do what they promised they would do.  I hope (like many other citizens) hope that people in these positions make good on their promises within the confines of a very broken system.  But that is why I became a teacher and a union activist.  To make things better, to educate, & make the world a better place for us all.  What about you?  

(The motion was carried unanimously.)

Here is where I try to motivate the collective “you”.  We are all responsible for doing our due diligence when it comes to the roles we are in and the positions we hold.   So, if you are a member of the executive board then you should probably know how that board functions and what the roles & responsibilities entail. 

Additionally, it probably helps to know how minutes become “official”, how resolutions are brought to the board, how the voting process works, the structure of each meeting, etc.  Why is this important? It is important because then you know that anyone can raise an issue during an open mic period.  Rank & file members can submit their questions & join us to bring it to the floor.  Furthermore, all members of the exec board, whether they be school-based or not, can share their wins from their buildings or their districts.   If you aren’t sharing that information, one might assume it is because there isn’t any to share? Or maybe it doesn’t fit the narrative of “us against them”.  That brings us about full circle…

Our strength is in our unity.   We, as a union, need to be united. That doesn’t mean agree for the sake of agreeing.  But it also doesn’t mean finding fault with every little uneventful thing, no matter what.  It seems petty to shake your finger at others for not following the procedures when by your own admission, you don’t follow procedures.  I believe that is what they call a hypocrite? There is an image that comes to mind now that I have seen in many classrooms.