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On Nov. 19 I saw something beautiful. Just before noon, I left my basement office at the Wabash College library, and walked to the courthouse. It was not a pretty day — a cold drizzle was falling, and I had forgotten my raincoat and umbrella. But when I reached the corner of Washington and Main, and saw the enthusiastic crowd of people gathered there, many of whom were dressed in red and lofting signs, my spirits brightened. This was a local support rally sponsored by Humans United for Equality in support of Indiana public school teachers. Thousands of teachers at that very moment were thronging the Statehouse and its grounds in Indianapolis demanding more support from their legislators, networking, talking with their local representatives, and carrying out the work of our democracy.
Here by our courthouse in the rain, about a hundred of us had gathered. Kids were handing out “Why Go Red for Ed” flyers with thoughts from Montgomery County teachers. Deb Kochert, president of the HUE board, stepped up onto a low platform before a microphone, and led us in chants. Our voices rang out: “Who do we love? Teachers! ...”
Mayor Todd Barton then spoke, encouraging us to step up as citizens, urging us to work for change when we see a need or a local problem to be addressed. He said that he had first run for office when, as a firefighter, he saw safety needs not being fully met in our community. Dr. Kathy Steele, long-time teacher and retired superintendent of schools for Crawfordsville, spoke of the invaluable and selfless work that teachers perform and how children need and value schools. McCutcheon High School teacher and Montgomery County resident Sarah Reed noted the excessive and expensive testing that the state imposes on our schools. More funding is needed, she said, for school counselors and programs that address the emotional needs of our vulnerable children. Shelbi Hoover stepped last to the mike. She read a powerful statement from one of our teachers: “... Indiana students deserve qualified, passionate teachers, but we’re hemorrhaging them to other states or private industry because they can’t pay their bills on the salaries we can offer and the stress isn’t worth it. Who will teach here in the future if nothing changes?”
The rally ended with more chanting and the feeling of encouragement that comes from being part of a healthy community. The crowd slowly dispersed and I walked back to Wabash, pondering those teachers’ words. They stayed with me. I stopped in at Arni’s and, to warm up, ordered a hot veggie stromboli sandwich. While I waited for my lunch, I read other statements from the flyer, and remembered the posts of a friend who teaches at CHS, a gifted educator who loves this community but who is thinking she may need to move. They resonated. I read: “Indiana is ranked 51st in teacher salary increases in past 10 years” — this from a Rockefeller Institute study. And noted other markers of our state’s poor investment in public schools. I started jotting down some thoughts. I realized we have a crisis — a crisis in public education here in Indiana. A crisis, then, for our democracy. For, if we lose our dedicated teachers, if our children aren’t educated well, how will they be able to get good jobs or think critically and be well-informed, active citizens? A strong public education is an essential part of our social infrastructure, and here in Indiana we are risking its loss. I would say to our state legislators, especially to our representative, Dr. Timothy Brown, you have tried other systems that have not proven themselves. You are doing far too little to support and strengthen public education. Please listen to our teachers. It’s time to change your mind.
Dr. Marc Hudson