Pam Namyslowski is a teacher in the Detroit public school system who posted a letter on Friday, January 8th to a man named Darnell Early. Early is the city's emergency manager for the school system, and there is certainly an emergency right now. There are currently 24 schools closed due to teacher "sick out" protests. Teachers believe the conditions of Detroit's public schools are atrocious. Early disagrees, and held a press conference in which he said:
This irresponsible strike is damaging the young minds of DPS students, impairing their ability to learn for life, and making them more susceptible to crime and poverty. The people responsible for this strike should be fired and put in jail.
Teachers responded by calling Early a heinous hypocrite, seeing as he is one of several people being held responsible in a lawsuit over the use of untreated water from the Flint River that resulted in lead poisoning for many families and their children in Michigan. Many teachers are clamoring to be heard, but Namyslowski's words broke through after she took wrote Early this scorching open letter of condemnation on Facebook, which has quickly gone viral:
She starts out with reminding him that Detroit schools were in rough shape before the strike. Where was he then? Here's the full text:
I have been a teacher in Detroit Public Schools for 24 years. I feel the need to respond to some of the comments you made during your press conference this week. You described the actions of protesting teachers as “unethical”. I’m curious, then, how you would characterize the learning conditions of the children of Detroit Public Schools that have existed for years.
She continues by getting into some of the uncomfortable, inappropriate and downright dangerous conditions the schools are often in:
Students who travel to and from school pass numerous abandoned, dangerous buildings and have been robbed, assaulted, and raped. Teachers have been victims of violent crimes and have had their vehicles and personal property damaged and/or stolen, sometimes repeatedly. They suffer verbal abuse and some have been assaulted by angry students or parents. Many schools have numerous plumbing problems in the lavatories, drinking fountains, and sinks. Many outdated school buildings are crumbling - roofs, floors, windows, doors, and locks that are broken or in desperate need of repair. Far too many classrooms are overcrowded, creating conditions that are not even safe, let alone conducive to learning. I'm wondering where the concern and outrage over that has been?
Namyslowski also talks about the sacrifices teachers have already made, including taking a 10% pay cut. Many are worried about losing their pensions and jobs entirely. Then she gets back to reminding him of what it's like to be in the classroom of an underfunded system:
We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles. In the winter, we often work with them in freezing rooms with our coats on. In the summertime , we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset. We send food home with them. We encourage them to persevere and to be hopeful about their futures. We celebrate their successes. We comfort them when they experience loss and tragedy. We give up time with our own children to support our students, who we also consider our children. We spend our own money to buy not only learning materials, but things such as uniforms, hand soap, sanitizer, and Kleenex.
She also responds to Early's allegations that the teachers' protests ignore the kids' voices in all this. Namyslowski thinks politicians are only interested in taking temporary advantage of this situation to give themselves a platform, and ultimately ignore the voices of people involved. She believes it's detrimental for schools to be run as businesses, and that includes measuring results with mandatory testing:
Educational decisions are now being made by politicians. Schools are being run like businesses. We have been vilified by these politicians. We have been made accountable for things we have little or no control over. We have been forced to administer numerous developmentally inappropriate tests to our students and then we and our students are judged by the meaningless scores. We have watched the debt increase to ridiculous, unsustainable levels under state appointed emergency managers, while the conditions we teach in have deteriorated alarmingly. We have been set up to fail in every way...The recent action of teachers is not an attempt to drown out the voices of the students. It is an attempt to finally make their voices heard.
4th Grade Teacher
Mann Elementary School
It's rough right now for students and teachers in Detroit. Hopefully, the passion of teachers like Namyslowski and the power of viral social media content will save the day.