|John Kuhn's Rally Speech
By John Kuhn - Supt
I want to say something to teachers that our lawmakers should have said long ago: Thank You! Thank you for keeping our children safe. Thank you for drying their tears when they scrape their knees, for cheering on our junior high basketball players, for going up to your room on Sundays to get ready to teach my kids on Monday. Gracias por cuidarlos! As a dad, I thank you.
Coaches, thank you for fixing little girls' softball swings and for showing our boys how to tie their ties. Thank you for getting our children safely home on the yellow dog after late ballgames, marching contests, and one-act plays.
Thank you for buying all those raffle tickets, hams, pies, discount cards, Girl Scout cookies, insulated mugs and pumpkin rolls, for buying more playoff shirts than any one person could possibly need and on top of all that spending your own money on pencils and prizes and supplies for your classroom.
There are those poor deluded souls who say you take more than you give, and I disagree with them with everything I am. Don’t let them get you down. They wouldn’t last a day in your classroom. You are NOT a drain on this economy; you are a bubbling spring of tomorrow’s prosperity. You’re a fountain of opportunity for other people’s children. As educational attainment goes up, crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, and prison rates all go down. Squalor and ignorance retreat. Social wounds begin to heal. Our state progresses; our tomorrow brightens. What you do, teacher, is priceless. You don’t create jobs. You create job creators.
Some people don't understand why you do what you do. They think merit pay will make you work harder, as if you're holding back. They don’t understand what motivates you. They think the threat of being labeled "unacceptable" will inspire you to care about the quality of your instruction, as if the knowledge that you hold the future in your hands on a daily basis is not incentive enough.
Maybe these sticks and carrots work for bad teachers, but they only demoralize the great ones, and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of great teachers in our public school classrooms today.
Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden.
You stand on the front lines of poverty and plenty, on the front lines of our social stratification. You are the people who shove their fingers into gushing wounds of inequality that our leaders won’t even talk about, and you aren’t afraid. You’re the last of the Good Samaritans, and you aren’t afraid, even as they condemn you for trying but failing to save every last kid in your classroom. You aren’t afraid, and you keep trying, and you haven’t faltered. You deserve to be saluted, not despised. You deserve to be acclaimed. You deserve so much more than the ugly scapegoating that privatizers peddle in the media and our halls of government.
Teacher, bus driver, coach, lunch lady, custodian, maintenance man, business manager, aide, secretary, principal, and, yes, even you superintendents out there trying to hold it all together—you serve your state with skill and honor and dignity, and I’m sorry that no one in power has the guts to say that these days. History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses." These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.
They say 100,000 kids are on a waiting list for charter schools. Let me tell you about another waiting list. There are 5 million kids waiting for this Legislature to keep our forefathers’ promises. There are 5 million children, and three of them live with me, and they’re all waiting for somebody in Austin, Texas, to stand up for them and uphold the constitution. There’s a waiting list of 5 million kids and this government says they can just keep waiting. How long must they wait?
If you support public schools I want to tell you about a new website. Go to texaskidswaiting.com and add your child's name to the public school waiting list, the list of kids waiting for this government to provide adequate school funding. That's Texaskidswaiting.com.
Our forefathers’ promises must be kept. We want fair and adequate resources in our kids' schools. We want leaders who don't have to be dragged to court to do right by our children.
It’s not okay to default on constitutional promises. It’s not okay to neglect schools until they break, to deliberately undermine our public school. These traditional institutions have honorably served their communities for generations. It’s not okay to privatize a public school system that strong and generous people built and left to us; it's not okay for Austin to confiscate buildings built by local taxpayers and give them away to cronies and speculators.
These buildings aren't just schools, they're touchstones. They're testaments to our local values. The Friday night lights that have illuminated our skies for decades, the school gyms that have echoed with play since the Greatest Generation was young—these aren’t monuments to sports. They’re monuments to community. They’re beacons of our local control, of the togetherness we cherish in our hometowns and city neighborhoods. We don’t want education fads imposed on us by Austin or, even worse, out-of-state billionaires.
What we want is simple, tried, and true. We want what this state promised in 1876. And to those who want to take away that promise, I know some moms and trustees and local businesspeople who will say what brave Texans have said before: “Come and take it.”
Two years ago I asked state leaders to come to our aid; they responded by cutting school funding by billions. But help did come: it came from you. The people of Texas are the cavalry that will save Texas schools. Two years ago may have been the Alamo; but this year may well be our San Jacinto.
I will end by saying this to the advocates who are bravely defending public education: thank you. And one more thing: do not go gently into that good night. Stand and fight, and save our schools.
(Ed. Note: Yes, I thought the same thing that you are thinking now . . . Why can't we have a Secretary of Education like John, who actually BELIEVES in public education as a philosophical construct and who is not selling our entire system to the most vocal billionaire? We need massive improvement, modernization, reorganization--all true--but at the end of all that, we need a strong PUBLIC education system that stands for EVERY child.)