Lessons on the Picket Line

My second grader has only been out of school for two days, but I think she has learned more from the teacher’s strike than an entire year’s worth of social studies curriculum.

Even outside the classroom, Zara’s teachers continue to teach. They are the ones who greet her at the picket line, lift her up on their shoulders at the rally so she can see the petite frame of the powerful Dolores Huerta on stage, and most importantly, take the time to explain the strike in terms of her classroom curriculum.

Despite their outward energy, the teachers must be exhausted from their early morning arrival at the picket lines, from shuttling around town to rallies and back to the picket lines where they march and chant and even dance! They must be depleted from the sugary treats we keep dropping off for them. But Zara’s teachers will stop marching to discuss the similarities between this current strike and Martin Luther King’s fight for equal rights, to explain how Oakland students not attending school may have the same effect as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

As a former high school history and journalism teacher, I recognize that this historical moment will soon be in the textbooks. Our country’s public educators – in LA, Denver, Oakland, (who’s next?) – are fighting for our children’s education, for equity, and essentially our democracy. We’re witnessing history. As one teacher’s rally sign read: “Teaching history by making history.”

The lessons are everywhere. Several Oakland institutions are generously offering freebies and discounts for Oakland students like the Oakland Museum of California, whose California history wing has numerous connections to the teachers strike.The Great Depression exhibit discusses the emergence of unions. The Black Panther exhibit discusses the importance of Oakland as a center for the civil rights movement. The border exhibit reminds us that so many people sacrifice so much to come here for better opportunities, starting with education. And while my second grader might not remember these details, I think she understands that the teachers strike is part of this ongoing story.

She has learned what “solidarity” means, and what it looks like in our community. Although Zara is able to be with family members for the duration of the strike, she understands that not all of her classmates have that option, and therefore community centers and churches have opened their doors to host free schools for families needing this option. She hears the passionate voices of church leaders pledging ongoing support for the teachers, the students, and their families. She sees the collection box for school supplies at her siblings’ preschool. She now knows the difference between an angry “honk” on the freeway and one of support while driving by picket lines.

One of the most important things Zara has learned from her teachers is to be an upstander, “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.” Zara doesn’t want to be a quiet bystander. She wants to stand up with and for her teachers. When Grand Lake Theater generously offered $1 admission (and $1 popcorn!) on the first day of the strike, Zara turned down my offer to take her to the movies; she would rather be supporting her teachers on the picket line.

At the end of the day, what it really comes down to is that she loves her teachers and understands that they are doing the hardest and most important job in the world!

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