From left: Karen Lord-Eyewe, Association of Pleasanton Teachers; Elizabeth Reeves-Arreaga, Long Beach City College Certificated Hourly Instructors; Scott Miller, Hawthorne Elementary Teachers Association; Misao Brown, Alameda Education Association
Association of Pleasanton Teachers
Long Beach City College Certificated Hourly Instructors
Alameda Education Association
During the CTA Summer Institute at UCLA, we sat down with four CTA members to find out what they thought about issues surrounding the November election. In this candid conversation, Misao Brown, Scott Miller, Karen Lord-Eyewe, and Elizabeth Reeves-Arreaga shared their thoughts on the profession and their hopes for this election.
CALIFORNIA EDUCATOR: There’s so much at stake in this November’s election. Why is this election important to you?
ELIZABETH REEVES-ARREAGA: For me, it’s about opportunity. I was a young mother and high school dropout. After I got my GED, I knew community college was the best way for me to further my education. And I was only able to do that through programs like CARE and EOPS [a state program that provides support to low-income and disadvantaged college students]. Programs like these must stay in place for people who are already disadvantaged to have the opportunity to move on. So I went from high school dropout to a Ph.D. program. I shouldn’t be the only person that’s like that.
MISAO BROWN: I think you personify the power of public education. And while funding for education and programs like these are vitally important, we must stay focused on the bigger picture, too — making sure we help students in the way they learn, and that the doors are always open to everyone.
This November’s election is important to public education. Do you think the candidates really understand that?
SCOTT MILLER: My whole life has been in school either on one side of the desk or on the other side of the desk, and everybody thinks because they went to school that they know what schools need — and they don’t. You know, it’s taken me 19 years and thousands of students to really figure out what works and what doesn’t. Any candidate that doesn’t understand classroom teachers are the key to understanding what our students schools need is out of touch. That’s why Meg Whitman’s plan for education makes me nervous. It’s not designed to build up our schools, but to continue the top-down sanctions that are destroying our neighborhood schools.
MISAO BROWN: The governorship is so important, because of the amount of influence the position has over education in this state. While the superintendent of public instruction is elected, and we have a great candidate, former teacher Tom Torlakson, the members on the State Board of Education are appointed by the governor. And we need people who have experience in education and understand firsthand the needs of students.
KAREN LORD-EYEWE: Exactly. Some people view education like a business. That’s what I feel about Meg Whitman. She would come in and view our students as products. You know, you just do a little something, treat them all the same, and they come out educated. [Laughs.] That’s not how it works, or will work. Every child I teach is unique and responds differently to instruction, depending on a variety of factors that I may or may not be privy to knowing about.
SCOTT MILLER: I think that in the business world you have the luxury of mandating that your employees leave all their differences at the door. As people who work in schools, we don’t have any of that. A 9-year-old child cannot leave what happened to them this morning at home or on the bus, they cannot leave that at the door, and we cannot expect them to. We can treat them as individuals, set high expectations, and do our best to help them reach those. I want a governor who understands that. I think Jerry Brown has learned a lot about what works through the years, and understands that I’m an important part of the solution, and that I have to be part of the conversation to get California back on track.
KAREN LORD-EYEWE: We have to get California back on track. I remember when I moved to California from Delaware with my kids. I was shocked at the disparity in the education system. I thought California, being so big and so wealthy, would invest more in their public schools. I just assumed things would get better. But over the past two years alone we’ve seen a cut of more than $17 billion. That has to stop. And it has to stop with this election. Our votes must lay the foundation for a better future for California. My son, who’s 22 now, reminded me of that the other day. He was saying we all know what our schools need; we just have to get engaged and involved and make it happen.
How do we do that?
SCOTT MILLER: I think part of it is, a lot of people feel powerless, and a lot of times when you go back to school and you say, “Hey, this is what we need to do,” you hear “I’m only one person” or “We’re only a small school.” But that’s really not the case. That’s one of the reasons we belong to a union — to be stronger together than we ever could alone. I think, as educators, we need to keep the conversation going, and I think it starts at the dinner table, and then it goes to the community centers and the churches and the synagogues and the community groups and the soccer fields and all those different places. We have to get more people involved in really doing what’s right for kids, because we can’t carry the load on our own, especially when we have to fight these people who have so much money.
Sounds like you are talking about Meg Whitman?
MISAO BROWN: Yes. I don’t think her top-down “help” is what our schools need. We need help from someone who understands collaboration is key to improving our schools, someone that’s going to get my community involved, that’s going to get my colleagues involved — someone who will encourage parents to be partners in the education process. We need Jerry Brown.
And how do we make sure Jerry Brown becomes our next governor?
SCOTT MILLER: It’s simple. We turn out the vote. We have to do what we think is right at the polls instead of staying at home, and we must encourage everyone we know to do the same.
ELIZABETH REEVES-ARREAGA: Teaching at the college level, I get to see this play out for students in a different way. My students can vote and really care about this election. They understand what’s at stake, and they want things to change for the better, and they are willing to work to make it happen. They inspire me. That’s why we’ve got to make sure people who support pro-public education candidates vote in this election.
SCOTT MILLER: I think another thing is that we’ve got to keep going out and telling our stories.
MISAO BROWN: True.
SCOTT MILLER: We can’t afford to live in a society where we’re not educated. If we keep telling our stories to everybody — to the newspapers, to the television stations, to the politicians, to our neighbors, to our friends and our families — then maybe people will see that teachers and educators have to be included in the conversation, and when we’re not, it hurts everybody, not just the students.
MISAO BROWN: We must put ourselves in the conversation every chance we get.
What are your hopes for the election?
SCOTT MILLER: I hope we get back the hope that so many people have lost, and that after this election we have people in office that will work with us. We have to really start working together to improve the education of all of our students. I feel like we’ve spent so much time in the past few years just fighting off attacks. With new leadership in office, we can start working together to improve our schools.
MISAO BROWN: I hope that people reflect on their values and understand that we can not only preserve public education but make it better for all kids, when we stand together and vote for people that share our values.
ELIZABETH REEVES-ARREAGA: I’m really struggling with this one, because to me, the hope for the election is the hope that the candidates will follow through with what they promised, and that this election marks the beginning of a new direction for California.
KAREN LORD-EYEWE: I see it as a new starting point. You work to elect the best people you can, then you work with them and hold them accountable.
SCOTT MILLER: Exactly, you can never be silent. I mean, that’s sort of the point.