A TEACHER’S SPEECH
A TEACHER’S SPEECH by Sheila Plotkin
The following speech was given by Sheila Plotkin at a Rally for Public Schools in Sun Prairie.
I taught in the Milwaukee Public Schools Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program for 28 years. I am here as a retired teacher, and as a proud American. I am here because I believe that today, we stand together on common ground, and I am moved to begin with the most common ground of all. We all know these words well, perhaps too well. I ask you to imagine that you are hearing these words for the first time. Please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of
America and to the Republic for which it stands, one
nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
“The United States of America” has always invested in its children’s futures. It built a system of public education that was the first of its kind. It brought education to the rural poor, the urban poor, to everyone’s children. It opened doors of opportunity. It said that no matter who you are or where you’re born, you have a right to education.
It promised all children now and generations from now the liberty and justice that only a free, public education can provide. States, including Wisconsin, enshrined the right to a free and equal education in their constitutions. They built great state universities that enriched not only those who attended, but entire regions.
The Republic for which our flag stands created the GI Bill after WWII. That investment gave rise to a new professional class and a thriving middle class. The beneficiaries of that investment – the greatest generation – believed in liberty and justice for all. They in turn invested in the expansion of public education to include pre-kindergarten, children with special needs, and an end to separate and unequal schools.
Out of these public investments in public education came great leaders, vibrant communities, a thriving economy, a nation ever more resolved to become indivisible. All of their strength, all of their striving, all of their investment was intended to give their children a better life than they had.
They defined the American Dream. Today, everything they built for us – the American Dream itself – is at risk, threatened with extinction by neglect.
The movement to privatize education is not new. For 25 years, I have watched as children, parents, teachers, and communities were told to do more and more with less and less. The devastating economic results of this refusal to invest can be seen in rural, urban, and increasingly in suburban communities.
It saddens me beyond words that Wisconsin has produced the first generation in our history who will not invest in public education. This refusal to invest in public education hurts all of us. It breaks the promise past generations made to the 860,000 Wisconsin children who are counting on that promise today. Like a voracious termite, it eats away at the magnificent structures our predecessors built for us.
Once those structures crumble and fall, we will never be able to afford to rebuild them.
States of America recognized the worth of the individual through public education. It grew liberty and justice for all in fertile soil, the common ground that is public education.
We must remind our legislators of their constitutional responsibility. We must tell them that the Republic for which our flag stands does not turn its back on our children and destroy what can never be rebuilt.
Our predecessors’ investments built this country. They built it for us, and we have thrived. We must do the same for our children and grandchildren. We must invest public money in public education…period!
We began with words we’ve all memorized. Here are some ideas we dare not forget:
• Liberty and justice for all is a uniquely American idea that flourishes only on the common ground of public education.
• Liberty and justice for all is who we are as Americans.
• Liberty and justice for all is not partisan, and it is not negotiable.