150,000 people. That’s the estimate for the People’s Climate March that took place on Saturday, April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Some estimates even put the number at 200,000!
(That’s 200,000 people, not 200,000 factorial, obviously. This is a bad math joke. You should probably just move along now.)
Before the march began, labor organizers held a rally in front of the Department of Labor, and I was asked to speak on behalf of the American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Teachers Union.
It was an honor to share a stage with such passionate and accomplished union activists. As a teacher, I felt a unique responsibility to draw attention to some of the (many) ways that public education is currently threatened, and how those threats on education are fundamentally threats on both democracy and the planet.
Here is a video of my speech and a written version of my remarks.
Thank you all so much! My name is Joe Herbert, and I am a high school math teacher right here in Washington, DC.
I’m here today because public education is the cornerstone of our democracy.
This current administration wants to destroy public education, just like it has no hesitation destroying the air we breathe and the water we drink.
We need to protect our kids and our planet. We need to prepare the children of today to be the engineers of tomorrow, the computer scientists of tomorrow – the artists, poets, clean energy experts, journalists, labor organizers, civil rights lawyers, and mathematicians of tomorrow.
For that, we need strong public schools. We need public schools that consider science, civics, and the arts to be just as important as math and English.
Today, there are students in American public schools who do not get any science or social studies education because they have extra math and reading.
Let me repeat: in 2017, there are students in American public schools not receiving an education – being deprived of an education – in science and social studies.
This is an abomination and a national embarrassment.
If this generation is to grow up to be an informed electorate, we need public schools that teach students to interpret evidence and think critically.
That’s what we’re here fighting for today.
But there is a sustained assault on public education, and it is very unfortunately bipartisan.
Right here in the Washington, DC, we have a Democratic mayor who has refused to give the Washington Teachers Union a fair contract.
So that as of today, our contract expired 1,672 days ago.
Many, many Democrats are cheerleaders for charter schools, which siphon money away from public schools and increase school segregation.
We need a renewed commitment to the principles of school integration set forth in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
We need to fight back against these so-called “school choice” policies like charter schools and vouchers.
These policies increase racial segregation, harm public schools, and have a disproportionate impact on poor students, on black and brown students, on students with disabilities, and on students who are immigrants.
We must commit, as a society, to funding and supporting our public schools and our public school teachers, so that we protect the social good and pillar of democracy that public education represents.
And, we must guarantee that this education is afforded to every child, in every school, in every neighborhood in America.
This will ensure that the next generation has the critical thinking skills, the knowledge of history, and the understanding of science necessary to avoid repeating the mistakes that we see our politicians making today.
So let’s advocate for quality public schools at the national, state, and local level.
Let’s hold our elected officials from both parties accountable, and demand that they support public schools.
My students inspire me every single day, and it is because of them that I am optimistic about tomorrow.
Let’s leave them a healthy planet, and a brighter, safer, greener, and more just future.
Thank you! And thank you for standing up for our planet and our children!