I’m going to veer from my normal ramblings about pedagogy, lesson plans and the internet to talk about a faculty strike at the PASSHE system schools, of which I’m a part.
Dear students and the support systems of students (family, friends, loved ones, etc),
I first want to thank you for participating with the strike and supporting your faculty. While I understand the hardship this causes, and hope for a swift resolution (I would love to teach on Monday), I also want to touch on the importance of this event to your education. I know, I know I’m not supposed to be teaching, but sometimes, teachers can’t help themselves.
As a rhetoric scholar I’ve taught courses on the history of rhetorical theory, walking undergrads and grads from pre-Ancient Greek and Roman theory (myth and narrative are early human communications with rhetorical features an functions) through Postmodernism and Feminism. An important feature of Greek and Roman rhetoric is the early understanding that for democracy to flourish, rhetorical practices needed to be taught and theorized. The need for teaching meant the need for quality education – a task of schools was to help Greek Democracy flourish. Rhetoric was a foundational discipline in early educational systems – and education was highly valued by those who could afford it.
When the Founding Fathers of America designed American Democracy, they too saw the need for education. An educated voting population, an educated citizenship meant a stronger Democracy and stronger country, emphasizing the need for quality education.
As women and people of color in America began to fight against their oppression, they fought for access to vote and access to quality education. Early voter suppression was related to illiteracy, further cementing the importance of education to American values and culture.
When the Civil Rights movement again fought for equality, one of the major sites of conflict were K-12 schools. All Americans wanted access to quality education.
I’m assuming at this point that the tying theme is obvious, quality education. This is the heart of the strike – faculty want non-Tenure Track, part-time, and adjunct faculty to earn a living wage so they can afford to stay relevant on the research presented in class, the teaching methods of the discipline, and the topics needing to be taught. There is more at stake; access to funds to support Tenure and Tenure-Track faculty professional development in all these endeavors are also threatened. For students to receive a quality education professors need to continue learning, researching, exploring, thinking, writing, interacting, talking, and so much more. (Both the APSCUF and PASSHE websites detail their sides, please educate yourself)
So, as you continue to support your faculty as they now take up the fight for quality education I want to thank you. I also want to point out what you’re learning through this strike.
For those students standing on the picket line, supporting at the student sit-ins and marches, talking with their faculty members, and supporting the strike – you’re learning about the rhetorical agency of American citizens. This is a foundational principle to our democracy. For some of you, this is your first election, and the first chance where (as adults) your rights and actions as citizens are valued. I’m so proud of all the thinking you’ve done to support faculty, writing you’ve done to support faculty, calling and talking you’ve done to support faculty. Your experiences here demonstrate your ability to transition from the classroom to real-world experiences – qualities your future employers will be lucky to have.
For those students against the strike who have similarly been calling, writing, and engaging the debate to end the strike swiftly so their education isn’t effected, I am also proud of you. Similar to participating students, you are demonstrating your ability to apply classroom learning to real-world experiences and fight for what matters to you!
I really hope this letter demonstrates the ways learning happens, even when traditional classroom learning is interrupted. The way these college students have been taught so well by their faculty that they are beginning to engage with Democracy. These students are our future, and the reason I am fighting for continued quality education at the PASSHE schools. I think your participation in various ways with this strike demonstrate that our fight is the right fight.