The Phoenix Flyer

On public education: ‘We are in the middle of culture war vs. aspiration. Hope vs. fear.’

By: - June 2, 2023 6:00 am

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers at a national education conference in Atlanta. Credit: Diane Rado.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a staunch public education advocate, said at a national conference Thursday evening: “We are in the middle of culture war vs. aspiration. Hope vs. fear.”

That’s a reference in part to the clash between Republicans and Democrats over the nation’s public schools, where books are being banned, certain classroom instruction is prohibited and teachers are leaving their jobs, among other concerns.

“Parents and teachers really need, and most importantly, students really need public education to work,” Weingarten said during remarks on the opening day of the 76th EWA (Education Writers Association) National Seminar in Atlanta.

“It’s important that you are there reporting. It’s important that you are telling the stories. It’s important that there is an EWA. It’s important that the First Amendment is real,” Weingarten said as the audience clapped.

She added: “It is important for us to be fighting for the anchors of democracy. And we see that as part of our job right now.”

That job is tough.

First, “It is a very bizarre world that we all live in,” Weingarten said.

Second, she said she has essentially been targeted, smeared and demonized by GOP lawmakers.

That said, she focused most on issues such as learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic and questions about why there are fewer kids in schools; what’s going on in terms of social media, and how can we help with mental health issues.

Those issues and more, need solutions.

On a good note, Weingarten mentioned inroads in pushing back on some of the controversial measures in public schools, such as the schools in Central Florida’s Hernando County School District. This week, hundreds of residents gathered for hours debating issues with the local school board.

“And to think about all of those teachers,” Weingarten said.

“Like in Hernando County in Florida. Who this week got up, and said no. You’ve got to stop doing this to us. We care about kids. And being yelled at and screamed at. And then saying, no. And parents standing with them. And kids standing with them.”

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.