Why I Take My Kids to Walk the Picket Line with Teachers

One mom shares her story of teaching activism to her child. Would you do the same?

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ashley

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ashley

When the Chicago Public School teachers voted to go on strike, taking to the picket line two weeks ago, I marched my children down to walk alongside them. Wheeling my toddler along, my fifth-grade son and I carried homemade signs made with brightly colored bubble letters that read, "I support my teachers!" and "Education matters!" and one made with emojis, putting our outrage in kid-speak.

We circled the schools with the teachers as they chanted; cheered when passersby honked their car horns; stood in the cold and rain as they called out grievances against a school board. When they turned the bullhorn over to the crowd, my 11-year old boy yelled out the injustices he sees in how teachers are treated and why students support them.

His homeroom teacher, who is teaching the class about Malala and how to use social media to be an activist, stood beside him on the stage. My son's first grade teacher, who introduced him to freedom fighters like Ghandi and Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson, cheered for him as she held her own babies. His math teacher and the amazing third grade teacher who challenged his curious mind with algebra and research methodologies and an inquiry project on India, heroically called his name from the crowd of parents, students and staff.

It was in school -- studying and being taught by great leaders and at home where this child learned how to be an activist.

It is a presidential election year, and my son's friends know the candidates and are pretty well-informed on issues at the core of the campaign. But I've told him that politics have to be  rooted right where you live, and in this case, where you slide into your seat every morning at 8:40 a.m. We went to the picket line because elections are about more than a leader of a nation, they are about decision makers in states, cities and communities who have the power to slash early intervention programming or decide that 36 can cram into a classroom.

We live in a state that ranks 50th out of 50 in state contributions to education. Our city's public schools are hundreds of million dollars in debt. They often can't afford photo copy paper or special education teachers and have shut entire schools down, forcing their students to cross gang lines each morning to get to school.

My son's school alone, which is a high-ranking arts magnet school, scrapes by each year. Even with a budget so lean it makes every stakeholder cringe, the Chicago Public Schools recently rescinded $170,000 from our school's account to help pay off their own poorly managed debt. 

As a parent, I know I must add my words and work to the heated conversation by supporting the people who spend eight hours a day (and often, far more) to teach my son about the world: the way that chemicals combine and combust, how to unwind an algebraic formula, strategies to work out differences in a team, how hiphop dance can help bring social studies to life, why running fuels a healthy body and mind. I stand with those teachers, no matter how much I feel like David against the Goliath of a school board and government. 

Strike days are inconvenient for all working parents, yes, but the opportunity to learn is still rich on the picket line. 

And as a student, I want my son to use his voice to fight for the kids who haven't been heard, whose schools are even worse off than his. I want him to look for the helpers in this crisis, and to see the great gifts they are giving our family. I want him to practice standing up for what he thinks is right, and standing beside those who are doing good. I want him to feel invested and be informed -- that he may be small and he can also be mighty. And I want him to know that each person who shows up matters in the classrooms, in the community and on the picket line.

We went to the picket line because I want him to see how powerful one voice can be. And it turns out his really was. 

Would you take your kids to the picket line to support teachers? How do you support teachers in your school district? Do you feel it's important to teach your kids political activism?