Here is my testimony from today's City Council Hearing on School Closings in Philadelphia. Teacher Action Group organized a panel of 4 classroom teachers from across the city to speak on the impact of the proposed closings and our suggestions for solutions to the current education disaster the we find ourselves in.
My name is Anissa Weinraub, and I am in my 7th year teaching in the School District of Philadelphia. I am a proud member of the Teacher Action Group and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and am also an active part of the PCAPS coalition to save our public schools.
Please, allow me to first say THANK YOU for hearing the true feelings of so many of your constituents across the city, and voting on a Resolution for a Moratorium on School Closings. It is absolutely a crucial first step, and reveals to all of us the council’s commitment to our neighborhood schools as important hubs for community health and security.
My question to us all today – you as elected representatives, and all of us an as engaged civil society – is: what will be our next step? I am hoping that it is a collective effort to go after the resources we need.
Allow me to offer a reflection I have gained from my years of teaching: As a teacher, my students learn infinitely more from my ACTIONS than my WORDS.
Young people can see when those words and actions don’t line up, and they will not be shy about telling you. For example, if I say that reading is important, but then my school has no books in the library or I only teach short excerpts from test-prep curricula, then my words end up falling short because I’m not actually SHOWING them with my actions that reading is something of value. So I work hard to make sure my words and actions are aligned.
The same thing, I think, can be applied to our words and actions as school leaders and elected officials. We can tell our young people to “stay in school” and “stop the violence” and that “education is the key to their futures,” but we also must take concrete action to SHOW that we value their education, our city’s safety and their futures, and so should they.
Right now, the actions of many adults in decision-making seats are not teaching our young people that we care about them. In fact, we’re showing them quite the opposite.
Over the past 2 years, we have had our public school budgets slashed by $1Billion from the state level. Those who have been elected to “lead” are vigorously disinvesting in our communities by underfunding our schools, and forcing our local District to shut down our schools or hand them over to the highest bidder, taking away the vital relationships that have been built between adults and young people, expecting us to teach and learn in overcrowded classrooms, to do more with less, and forcing us into shallow, scripted curriculum in order to chase test scores, instead of encouraging real student-centered, engaging and participatory learning.
But this doesn’t have to be the lesson we teach the young people of Philadelphia about what they’re worth. We can make different choices that show them they are our priority and we won’t settle for less than what they deserve.
In Philly, it feels hard to stomach the chorus that “there is no money” when the glow of Comcast’s glorious LED screen lights up 17th street or the University of Penn continues to acquire property in my neighborhood, when the Department of Corrections’ budget increases and Natural Gas keeps being drawn out of the earth.
So, I have come here today to ask you, members of the City Council, to take the next step. Show us your continued moral leadership, and help us to get the resources our city’s schools so desperately need, so that we don’t have to throw our communities into chaos through massive school closures, and so that we can actually redesign our schools to meet our students’ true needs.
Help us raise hundreds of millions here in Philadelphia:
1. by taxing major center city commercial real estate holders and corporations that don’t pay their fair share.
2. by taxing the Mega non-profits on their real estate holdings.
And then join with us, your constituents, and let’s go after the money in Harrisburg together. Let’s use your political muscle and our strength in numbers of teachers, parents, students, and community members, and let’s go get the money that our young people deserve. If you lead, I promise you that thousands of Philadelphia residents will follow.
And then we will truly be aligning our actions with our words, as we put down our collective foot and fight for fully and equitably funded public schools, so that our young people can be prepared to build a future which prioritizes human dignity over corporate greed, a future where the suggestion of selling out our communities to balance a budget will never again be on the table.
That will be the most profound lesson we could ever teach.