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Why We Must Defend Against the GOP Plan To Destroy Public Education

COMMON DREAMS, Randi Weingarten, March 29, 2023

Our public schools shouldn’t be pawns for politicians’ ambitions. Or defunded and destroyed by ideologues. We are at a crossroads: Fear and division, or hope and opportunity. A great nation does not fear people being educated.

The following are the prepared remarks by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten delivered on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 at the National Press Club.

I. THE PROMISE AND PURPOSE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

Today, we once again grieve for families shattered by senseless gun violence. Please join me in a moment of silence for the lives lost at the Covenant School in Nashville, and for all victims of gun violence.

Today we renew our call for commonsense gun safety legislation including a ban on assault weapons. This is an epidemic that our great nation must solve.

There’s a saying: You don’t have to love everything about someone to love them. I’m sure my wife doesn’t love everything about me, but she loves me. (I, on the other hand, love everything about her.) Nothing is perfect. Banks aren’t. Congress isn’t. And neither are our public schools—not even our most well-resourced and highest-performing schools. Those of us involved in public schools work hard to strengthen them to be the best they can be. But only public schools have as their mission providing opportunity for all students. And by virtually any measure—conversations, polls, studies and elections—parents and the public overwhelmingly like public schools, value them, need them, support them—and countless Americans love them.

Public schools are more than physical structures. They are the manifestation of our civic values and ideals: The ideal that education is so important for individuals and for society that a free education must be available to all. That all young people should have opportunities to prepare for life, college, career and citizenship. That, in a pluralistic society such as the United States, people with different beliefs and backgrounds must learn to bridge differences. And that, as the founders believed, an educated citizenry is essential to protect our democracy from demagogues.

Thomas Jefferson argued general education was necessary to “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “The real safeguard of democracy … is education.” And Martin Luther King Jr., in accepting the United Federation of Teachers’ John Dewey Award, made clear, “Education is the road to equality and citizenship.”

When kids go to school together, they become part of a community; their families become part of a community. That community comes together at school concerts, basketball games and science fairs, and for shelter and comfort, when people are displaced by natural disasters or, far too often, at vigils for victims of gun violence. In good times and bad, public schools are cornerstones of community, of our democracy, our economy and our nation.

But some people want that cornerstone to crumble—and they’re wielding the sledgehammers.

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