A. Phillip Randolph and Who Really Controls Teacher Voice

Jose Vilson Jose

A Phillip Randolph

A Phillip Randolph

This week, I had the distinct please of listening to Norman Hill speak as part of a panel of activists and organizers that worked on and around the Civil Rights Movement, specifically with Bayard Rustin. In one of my favorite moments, Hill quoted A. Phillip Randolph:

β€œAt the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”

? A. Philip Randolph

I’m reminded of this every time we talk about teacher voice, and getting an invitation to this imaginary table.

After listening to that quote, I then wondered, if all these people are at the table and there are no reserved seats, then why are we as teachers still talking about not having a voice? Why wait until someone grants it to us from on high?

Why seek validation from the assortment of “education experts” like mayors, chancellors, politicians, millionaires, billionaires, presidents, random people off the street, corporate CEOs, actors, musicians, artists, and the occasional athlete? Or anyone else with an opinion on education?

Professors and union leaders sometimes fit in this category, too, because they should know better than to talk down to K-12 practitioners, but some do, and forget to invite teachers to their events and panels even when they say they’re advocating on behalf of us.

We don’t always want “on behalf of.” We want to do a lot of this ourselves.

(Don’t misconstrue this as me dissing my union. If anything, we need one, now more than ever. But there’s more we can do, too.)

We know enough teachers who want to elevate their voices beyond the current issue du jour or the hottest edubuzz word. Yet, some of us prefer to see teachers as weak and incapable because it lets us market to a disempowered constituency.

In other words, if we’re going to raise teacher voice, we can’t expect that nature has reserved that seat for us. We must take it.

We must do whatever we can, big or small, to shake the very foundation of society’s understanding of what it means to teach children. You have every right to speak up, apart from the inner sanctums we create within your circle of friends. Once you’ve relinquished your right to the belief that you have a say, you’ve lost.

A. Phillip Randolph chose to organize massive amounts of folk when he wanted to organize. The least you can do is help spread the word for this movement.

Jose, who doesn’t want to pull punches …