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President's Viewpoint

Save a Child. Save the Future.

“Educator-led solutions” work for students, says Lily Eskelsen García, who toured Hubert Middle School in Savannah, Ga., as part of NEA’s September Back to School tour.

Something remarkable is going on.

In the face of anti-union legislation that makes it harder to bargain and easier and more attractive to abandon the union, educators nationwide are banding together to raise their voices against those who would silence them. They’re coming together to fight for the social good—for the good of their students, parents, and the community where they live and teach. Together, they represent a rededication to social justice unionism that relies on traditional values like solidarity, equity, and democracy.

Across the country NEA affiliates are advocating for their students—on issues from class size and adequate resources to family involvement. They are working to improve schools by demanding changes in policy and practice.

But that’s not all. Educators are rallying and organizing for their students’ parents and communities, demanding everything from a living wage for working families and affordable health care programs, to universal preschool and crime prevention.

This is about leveraging our collective power in new ways to raise the voices and vision of educators, the people who really know how to make schools better. This movement is about taking charge and implementing educator-led solutions that work for students. It’s about using approaches tailored to each community to assure fairness and opportunity for every student.

But what we’re seeing today is anything but new. Instead, it is firmly rooted in the histories of our nation and our union.

As far back as the early 1900s, NEA stood beside women like Mother Jones in the fight against child labor, That’s because educators were eyewitnesses to the ways poverty can devastate a child. We saw that children who were plucked from school desks, and sent to work in a factory or in a mine so that their family wouldn’t starve, were also pulled away from opportunity. We saw that when you destroy the future of a child, you destroy the future—period. So, we fought. And state after state we won child labor protections.

We’ve always fought for what’s best for children and families because we know that a child’s wellbeing and their learning are inextricably intertwined. It’s part of an educators’ DNA to care what happens to students inside and outside the classroom. And as economic and opportunity gaps widen into chasms, we’re redoubling our efforts to fight for equity and justice.

NEA members are the impetus behind labor’s renewed focus on critical social issues like immigration, gun safety, college affordability, health care, marriage equality, education budget cuts, and other real things that matter to real people. I am proud of that, and I believe our efforts will help to drive U.S. union membership up, and lead to a worldwide revitalization of labor.

We have work to do, but we are powerful. Let’s use our power to fully serve our students and their families, and make the entire world a better place.

For more on Lily Eskelsen García’s perspectives and activities, visit her popular blog, Lily’s Blackboard.

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