With the ninth annual Moral March on Raleigh/HK on J set for this Saturday, this morning’s Weekly Briefing attempts to remind readers of the enormous similarities between the civil rights movement of the 20th Century and today’s movement for justice in North Carolina. If you’re wavering on whether to attend, the piece may provide an extra boost of enthusiasm.
The same is true for the essay below from a very inspiring Guilford County public school teacher.
Why I’ll be marching this Saturday
By Todd Warren
As a North Carolina public school teacher, I know where I’ll be this Valentine’s Day: Marching on a cold February morning with other public education allies at this year’s Mass Moral March in downtown Raleigh. Hundreds of educators will be there, wearing red and marching with Raise Up for 15, the fast-food workers organizing for $15 per hour. We’ll be there marching to the NC State Capitol, demanding full funding for public education, and saying unequivocally, “Poverty Is An Education Issue.”
If it wasn’t already clear how closely academic achievement is tied to household income, the new state school report cards clearly demonstrate this connection. Data recently released by the NC Department of Public Instruction shows that of the 146 schools that received F’s, all were schools with over a 50 percent poverty rate. Of the 561 schools that received D’s, over 97 percent had a more than 50 percent poverty rate. A recent report from the Southern Education Foundation shows that 53 percent of our students in NC are in low income families.
The strong correlation between poverty and academic achievement has been noted for decades. Nutrition, stress, lack of health-care and housing stability all play a role in brain development and student learning. This is not disputed, yet as educators, we largely ignore poverty and instead focus on how to better teach our students. No amount of revised lesson plans or new curriculum will remove the impact of poverty on student learning. Taking a stand against low wage poverty is a stand for education.
I want to be clear: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the academic abilities of poor children. In fact, when you remove the stresses created by poverty, academic achievement goes up. There is something wrong with a society and economic system that allows so many of our children to live in poverty.
While education is certainly a component of eliminating poverty, it is a mistake to believe that education alone is enough to overcome structural inequality. Ignoring the role that profitable corporations play in depressing wages is a disservice to our students. As educators in a state where fifty three percent of children are from a low income household, we cannot ignore opportunities to increase their standard of living.
The growing #FightFor15 movement demands the minimum wage be increased from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. As educators we must support these efforts, not only because it is morally responsible, but also due to the fact that student poverty is a major impediment to learning. We are not making excuses, rather we are correctly identifying the problem and taking appropriate steps to get our students what they need.
We demand that profitable companies pay their workers a living wage. Fast-food workers are the parents of our students. Our students’ success is directly tied to their parents’ ability to provide for their families.
In addition to promoting a living wage for all workers, we condemn corporations for forcing workers to use public assistance to make ends meet while the corporations get larger and larger tax breaks. Public education budgets have been stripped to the bone while corporations dependent on low-wage labor make record profits.
Public education is rife with talk about high standards and accountability. I’m all for it; let’s raise our standards for what we allow people to be paid and hold hugely profitable corporations on the public dole accountable. Join us?
Want to go? February 14, 2 East South Street, Raleigh, NC (across the street from Raleigh Memorial Auditorium), pre-rally starts 9am, march at 10.
Todd Warren is a K-5 Spanish teacher at Guilford Elementary in Greensboro, NC.