Like the Levite for decades I pass by the many in need, because I could not see the greater good outside my own classroom. I could not see outside my own personal world. My personal journey meant reversing the question to that Samaritan stance began by stepping out my PhD theoretical stances, and it required me to stepping out of the comfortable political stances I had come to occupy as well. It require assuming a moral stance. You are either in for justice all the way or not.
In 2010 I jumped all in for justice. I began my first walk to Washington DC for justice in our public schools by listening to Martin's last sermon. In 2010 I reverse the question, and stopped being a Levite, and became a Good Samaritan. It is no longer what will happen to the children in my classroom. It became... what will happens to children, teachers and public schools suffering equity and injustice everywhere?
Teaching has always been a struggle for those who teach in poor communities. 49 states spend more money on their wealthy schools than their poor schools., (Education Week 2015 Quality Counts Report). Politicians always settle for less, and the courts have always had to intervene for equity. The system has been weighted against Black, Brown, and Poor Children since the very first public schools opened. I turned 61 on June 11. I have been teaching, learning, and growing for decades. For most of my teaching career I fought my battles solely at the classroom level, through my professional organizations, and at the state policy making level. In many ways I was as Dr. King would say a Levite. I stood secure at the my students, my classroom, and my school level. However outside my school doors I passed over the many suffering inequity and injustice in our public schools. I talked about my class, my work, and my scholarship. I avoided deep discussions beyond what "I" did level.
The only place I made a genuine different was in my classroom. Professional organizations, policy makers, and legislators rather chase elusive data points rather than draw a line in the sand on equity. You really can't measure any education reform without having a level playing field. You will always end up comparing schools with more against those with less. I knew this from the day I enter my first classroom. How does a teacher committed to justice and equity in our public schools become a Samaritan? You step outside your "I" box. You see the bigger picture. You must risk it all. With justice you can't be half in. You can't say to young children justice for you is coming some day. Be patient if it misses you maybe justice will catch your children.
My comfort zone is I am a Star Fish Teacher. The Star Fish story talks about a young boy walking on the beach after a storm where thousands of Star Fish are washed up on the beach. An old man finds a boy throwing Star Fish back into the ocean to save them. The old man tells the boy you are wasting your time. You can't save them all. The boy picks up another to throw back, and tells the old man it's make a difference to this one.
Over the years, I learned to live with the disappointments of legislators, policy makers and courts determined not to right inequity, but to sustain an unjust public education system. Politician talk equity, but write legislation rooted in inequity. Policy makers talk equity, but write ways around it. Courts rule on it, but always compromise on it. A system so deeply rooted in Black, Brown, and Poor children attending schools that decades ago Jonathan Kozol Labeled our schools places of "Savage Inequalities".
It hard to fight on two fronts. One fight always gets more than the other. The classroom side is the place I always gave more to the fight. I am a Star Fish Teacher after all. I learned to make every second in the classroom pay off. I became comfortable fighting there. It was my Levite safe zone. These days it has become too hard to teach in a climate where bureaucrats have turned teaching and learning into a numbers game without empathy and humanity. Politicians and policy makers are bent on privatizing our public schools. It pays off nicely in campaign contributions for them.
I came to accept the world outside my four walls was inequitable and unjust, but inside my classroom walls justice ruled. It was enough until No Child Left Behind came along, and turned children into test scores, and schools and teachers into the enemy.
Then came "Race To The Top" not only did poor schools have to deal with inequity, but now had to compete with each other for limited resources. Race To The Top turned choice into a lottery of losers and winners, and blamed Black, Brown, and Poor children for not having enough grit to deal with inequity and injustice.
From 2002 to 2008 I watched the data point to their every single NCLB Ed Reform fail. In 2008 I hoped for change, and by 2010 Secretary Duncan gave us the double down on testing, grit, rigor, and I watched my Star Fish teachers begin to fall one by one. We Levite teachers were no longer safe on the road. The system standardized stranding children, teachers, and local schools on the beach far from the oceans they needed to strive. Public Education became even more deeply rooted in inequity and injustice. Equity will never happen through forcing poor schools to compete against each other for grants, resources, and funding.
In 2010 I decided fighting on the classroom level was not enough. I needed to step up the fight outside the classroom. I decided the struggle outside my classroom would be to help inform, educate, and move the public to action. I would use my body as well as my words. So I began walking to Washington DC in 2010. On my 40-day journey I met parents, teachers, and students who felt victimized by a public school system that demoralized and dehumanized them.
In Selma I would become part of Moral Mondays. I would learn you can't fight the battle outside the classroom without putting my body in the streets.
Along the way I joined SOS, BATs, and UOO, and any other group willing to put their bodies into the struggle.
In 2015 I threw my body into walking again. I joined Moral Monday CT and Black Lives Matter as well. I began fighting on two fronts on harder. I save my Star Fish one at a time at the classroom level, and fought to save them all on the streets.
I have found a brotherhood and sisterhood of people ready to take this struggle for justice and equity into the streets. I came to understand this battle better from reading Connecticut Moral Monday activist and friend Unitarian Universal Rev Josh Pawelek sermon about his Moral Mondays and Black Lives activist stance.
" Social justice movements need our bodies as much—or more—than they need our words. As one who’s invested much in the talk of social justice, it was hard for me to transition to body-based struggle. I’ve named that from this pulpit a number of times. I’ve always been affirmed for using words. Would embodied struggle receive the same affirmation? But what a difference it has made for me to say nothing with my mouth and everything with my body, to stand in a street blocking traffic because Black Lives Matter, to spend an evening in jail. And how much more powerful the words that finally do come when the mind speaks what the body knows."
I have learned that this struggle is bigger than being a Star Fisher saver, it's needs bodies marching, blocking streets, and occupying those legislative bodies that sustain this inequitable and injustice public school system. As I arrived after 40 days of walking to the BAT March On Washington in Washington DC last July our legislators and President Obama signed into law Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA). A bait and switch piece of legislation that maintains high stakes testing, rigor, grit, and continues to force poor schools to compete against each other in an inequitable and unjust system. The bait and switch we are maintaining testing and competition is equity, but taking away Federal control, and putting it all in the hands of those 49 governors spending more on their wealthy schools than their poor ones. In other words, the foxes are now in control of the hen houses.
I am still a Star Fish Teacher, but I am using my body in the struggle for equity and justice not only in our schools, but everywhere. Now I am walking for justice and equity in our schools and outside them as well. Some people call my actions naive and radical. But, like Bernie Sanders I see nothing naive or radical about using my words and my body to stand up for equity and justice. My teaching methods and theory cannot win this battle. They can help me save some, but not all. I want to save all not some. As Rev Pawelek said "How much more powerful the words that finally do come when the mind speaks what the body knows" I save Star Fish one at a time in my classroom, my minds speaks truth to power, my feet and my body fight the battle outside my classroom door. Outside the classroom door my "Mind Speaks what the body knows"
I am calling every student, parent, teacher, and activist to come let your minds speak what your bodies know. Equity and justice is calling every American to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on July 8. Justice requires not only our words, but our bodies. See the greater good, see not just those in front of you, but see all our children in our public schools. On Sundays at service I still ask God for forgiveness, and to help me do more. I am still far-far from that ticket to heaven. Although my words and my body are now in the struggle for equity and justice for all children.
Calling all Good Samaritans everywhere, come join our march for public education and social justice, come speak your mind, and put you body into the struggle,
Jesse The Walking Turner