Friday, March 5, 2010
Going On To Pink Slip Heaven: Save Our Schools
Went on a "Save Our Schools" protest march last night which ended up with a rally at my old Alma Mater, San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton. But I, being a senior citizen (70), had seriously underestimated the 2-plus mile distance of the march and was forced to rest a few moments on the bridge over the Calaveras River (aptly meaning "skeleton" in Spanish), alongside University of the Pacific, the oldest university in California. The muddy runoff below roughly raced to the west.
The orderly line had begun to split up, people struggled to keep up. Some dropped out or gave up. I was doing it for something. Myself? To maintain an image of old self? For others? Education? Still a mile to go!
Speaking of skeletons, the marchers had secured an old coffin and fixed an effigy of a cadaver inside, signifying the "Death of Education", carrying it at the front by pall bearers, followed by the revelers. The hundreds who attended were mostly educators, administrators, board of trustee members, union members, teachers and students, from all over the county, Ripon, Manteca, Tracy, Lodi. Moms with children in strollers.
A lone helicopter circled overhead, its blades chopping loudly into the wind, signs and banners everywhere and cars honking in support. It was wild, reminiscent of the old days, the anti-war and Huelga (Farmworker) marches of the late 60's-70's. The media, here and there interviewed people and shot photos.
Roberto Radrigan, the consumate journalist, hoofed it all the way, darting back and forth from the front to the back of the line, shooting photos, once counting passersby with his fingers, and then passing out copies of his local paper, Bilingual Weekly.
As the marchers pulled away, and I joined in, my eyes welled with tears. I tried to understand why. Why was I crying? Me, a grown man? I tried to not let anyone see. My oldest son kept texting me with updates of what was going on in San Francisco, Los Medanos College, UC Berkeley, Oakland where protestors had closed down a freeway, UC Davis, of students being arrested. This was big.
Ours was a law abiding, peaceful march and we made sure to stop at all the red lights, crossing only on green. However, when we arrived at Delta College, I was completely overcome with tears. I felt so grateful that destiny had led me to become a teacher here for 33 years.
I thought of the hundreds of students I taught and how hard I had tried to instill in them the pearl, the gem of free thought. Just as it had been instilled in me by the incredible teachers who crossed my path in high school, in college. For a moment, I was overcome by gratitude.
For a young Mexican to come out of a poor Mexican barrio in South Modesto, and go to college in the 1950's was nearly unheard of. My two Masters Degrees, one in art, one in English, stand guard on the wall, even as I write this, one to the left, one to the right. My prize possessions. Education changed my life.
Then, the tears dried when the speakers began, and it dawned on me that this, this gift, this pearl was on the brink of extinction in light of proposed cutbacks to California schools of 17 billion! Consequently, Stockton Unified School District has sent out 290 "pink slips". Other local districts follow. Class cuts. Fee hikes. Increased class sizes. Layoffs. The news, not new, was grim.
Afterwards, my wife and I went to Manny's on Pacific Avenue and ate an Avocado Burger on Genova French Bread with a side of chile beans. I felt guilty.
People need to speak out on this! I think I will: Manny's makes great burgers!