A picture’s worth a thousand words they say, and that was certainly the case earlier this year when public school teachers in Detroit started tweeting out pictures of the crumbling schools they work in.
After months of attempting to grab legislators’ attention, the teachers called in sick, en masse earlier this year, causing almost all city schools to close, and while they withdrew their labor, they flooded the social media with images of just what they were so sick of:
Broken toilet seats in the students' bathrooms, mushrooms on their classroom walls, leaking ceilings, moldy food.
The teachers sent out pictures of something that’s had a hard time getting seen: the social cost of austerity.The teachers secured attention from at least one national candidate - Hillary Clinton who pointed out such conditions wouldn't be tolerated in more affluent places. Majority Republicans in Michigan's Legislature threatened new laws to make it easier to crack down on protesting workers. We’ll see what happens.
Meanwhile, it’s worth reviewing how the Detroit schools got into such a fix. The system wasn't always broke. According to analysis by the Citizens Research Council, a Michigan based policy group, the Detroit schools were enjoying a surplus in the 1990s. Now, 41 cents of every dollar appropriated for students is being spent on servicing city debt.
Detroit’s very far from the only city’s that’s mortgaged its public assets to pay off private lenders. What’s the cost? It’s not entirely clear. We tend to privatize our problems. What the teachers did was broadcast theirs to the world. Perhaps it’s time for others to snap pictures of their public institutions: their libraries, their schools, their public colleges, their court buildings. What’s austerity look like where you live?
We're way past due for a great national sick out.
You can watch my interview with Craig Willse and Imani Craig, as well as our latest short documentary on an upstate New York farm that is subverting the school-to-prison pipeline this week on The Laura Flanders Show at LauraFlanders.com and on KCET/LinkTV, FreeSpeech TV and in English and Spanish on teleSUR.