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Laboring Toward A Better Future

"Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation."

-Samuel Gompers

The calendar might officially say that Summer lasts for a few more weeks, but for many of us Labor Day marks the true transition from summer back into Fall, the work week, and the school year. How symbolically appropriate, whether intentional or not, we celebrate a day honoring everyone who does the hard work to keep the gears of civilization turning, often at great personal cost. Of course, holiday or not, it’s hard to take our society’s honoring of the laborer too seriously when the Presidential hopefuls from one of the major party’s are pledging to destroy unions.

Just over a week ago we saw the first Republican presidential debate, in which the "B team" of Republican candidates pretended that they had a chance of becoming President, without some sort of existential catastrophe befalling Donald Trump. The Republican base has made it clear that by-and-large they still fully support Trump, with nearly 60% of respondents backing the 4-time criminally indicted former President. One of the most striking aspects of the debate was simultaneously how old and tired, and crazy and terrifying the ideas of the candidates seem to be in the absence of Trump on the stage. The Republicans seem to be caught, unable to move beyond Trump electorally and unable to offer any new policy ideas that would resonate with the majority of American people.

Case in point were the absolutely baffling responses of Republican Candidates to questions on how to improve educational outcomes and the international competitiveness of America's youth. These are real, persistent issues, with deep problems routed in our underinvestment and over testing in education. However, while quick to acknowledge the growing “achievement gap” in STEM subjects, reading and writing comprehension skills, the candidate’s responses seem as far removed from reality as one could imagine. Multiple candidates suggested that eliminating the Department of Education in its entirety would be a top priority in their education reform! This, thrown in, with the nearly obligatory bashing of teachers and attacking of teachers’ unions.

For those who’ve read this email for some time, it should come as no surprise that neither of these proposals resonate at all with the broader American public, to say nothing of how utterly ineffective or counterproductive in solving the stated problems such “solutions” would prove to be. This paucity of serious ideas for education reform is likely a combination of corruption by private interests, and a genuine, if narrow lens of seeing education as a form of “investment.” In this view the individual invests in themselves by becoming educated, and society invests in education at large to make productive workers. This critically misses, however, that education is a public good about so much more than simple productive capacity, it can help creating and socializing good citizens that can fully realize their potential in every capacity of life they desire.

Elites want docile workers but Americans know that education can and should be so much more. That’s why Americans still support Teachers and Teachers’ unions, despite decades of propaganda, over testing of students, and underfunding of public education programs. Americans want more funding, not less for a Department of Education! Instead of attacking and vilifying educators, who are underpaid, overworked, we should be listening to these teachers and pouring more money into public education. The Rand Corporation, in a study of the changes to education made since the No Child Left Behind program established by Bush showed that these types of reforms foisted on Americans have been a colossal failure. Instead, the study suggests we should have been listening to teachers the whole time: shrinking class sizes to allow a better student to teach a ratio; increasing funding allowing more opportunities and extracurricular activities for children; allowing for better experiential learning among other recommendations. These are all elements that teachers have been telling us are necessary to properly do their jobs.

Changes like this won’t just improve test scores, exposure to diversity builds empathy and creates a stronger and more unified society, better able to combat the viscous hatred and division we now face in many areas of our country. We have many challenges ahead of us both as a nation and a species in the coming years from climate change to authoritarianism. It will be more important than ever to stand together, laboring for a brighter tomorrow. So while Labor Day may mark the end of Summer, it signals a renewal of the endless labor towards a stronger society, a better society, and society which finally realizes the promise of the American dream, denied to so many. As all unions understand, their power comes not just from electoral politics, but economic might. So, join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity as we create an economic cudgel to stand with all unions and on behalf of students knowing that with political organizing and economic leverage together we can create a better society. Don't shop on Tuesday!

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