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Teachers and Strikes

January 05, 1986

I feel I must take strong exception to the commentary by Sharon Hatch ("Money Alone Never Justifies Teachers Strike" Dec. 15). As a teacher who went through the same program as she at San Diego State last year and who is working as a substitute in the San Diego City Schools, I feel I am qualified to respond.

It is never money alone that determines whether or not teachers strike. Hatch has missed the point and is fundamentally ignorant of the purposes for teacher strikes and strikes in general. In our current political environment, we find strike busting in vogue. There have been other times in the history of the United States when strikers risked their lives by striking.

The right to strike has strengthened our democracy. The money teachers are fighting for may seem inconsequential next to the importance of teaching. Money is not the only problem at the core of teacher discontent. It is certainly important, but it is important more for what it represents than what it changes materially. What teachers are fighting for is respect.

Money does directly affect the quality of education in the United States. Those groups that are unwilling or naive enough to lie down and not fight for their place in society will be relegated to the ash heap of history. Teachers are fighting for their status. At this time it is unrealistically low.

As a student teacher, Hatch should know that teachers are already one of the most committed groups of professionals. They work long hours by choice and receive personal rewards that augment their low salaries. Commitment, however, does not include martyrdom. There is no reason why teachers should accept a subordinate position in society. If they do, education and the true purpose of education as a whole suffers.

Education cannot be improved by devaluing it. Unpleasant as it may seem, money talks in our society. Students understand this. They are not so frail that their minds will be weakened by the images created by teacher strikes. On the contrary, students learn that one must stand up for one's place in the community. They learn and mature by questioning teachers on their reasons for striking. History shows that groups that fail to fight for their rights rarely receive them.

I also must question Hatch's view that students' "subordinate position" is somehow threatened by their standing in front of the school board. One crime many educators can be justly criticized for is their over-emphasis on authority for authority's sake. Students hardly need to be reminded who is in power. Teachers spend great amounts of time and energy reinforcing this concept daily. Students need to be encouraged to be citizens, not sheep.

I will not pedantically assail every point of Hatch's letter. I can honestly say that I have been there and have often wondered why certain teachers behave as they do. She does teachers a disservice by putting them on a pedestal and then criticizing them for not living up to her expectations.

My views have changed. As a student teacher I began to understand the awesome difficulties of presenting material to students whose lives outside of school resembled Civil War battlegrounds. It is hard to expect Jenny to care about Lincoln or Lee when she doesn't care about herself. Teachers do not want to be put on a pedestal. They merely want to get themselves up to ground level.

Dignity. Is there dignity in losing quality people to the private sector because of low salaries in the teaching profession? Is it dignified to allow less than the best and the brightest to become the teachers of the future? Does the American public really care about education (yes), and are they willing to pay for it (maybe)? Hatch wants teachers to lie down unless our lives are physically in danger. I would think by the time it gets to that point, no one will be left.

ALLAN PETERSON

San Diego

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