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Star Wars

As a veteran public school teacher, I know that the most sacred part of education is the student–teacher relationship. There is a power in the exchange of knowledge and the nurturing of skill sets. It is kind of like using the Force to train new Jedi. Remember the Force? Here’s the actual definition from Obi-Wan Kenobi, who happens to be a great teacher. He says,

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”

However, when there is money to be made by profit-minded entities, many in power turn to the Dark Side and manipulate the Force for personal gain. Look at the virtual academies run by profit-minded companies. Look how many new “private” schools have been created in response to the Opportunity Grants.

Yet when these profit-minded reforms are questioned, lawmakers swear they are doing the will of the people. It sounds like Darth Vader’s great quote from the first Star Wars movie:

“I find your lack of faith disturbing”

It’s the year before major elections, and the GOP-led NC General Assembly and the Governor’s Office will take major steps to show great improvement for the 2015-16 school year. But in the immortal words of Admiral Akbar in The Return of the Jedi,

“It’s a trap!”

Monies, resources, and benefits have been eroded away to create an environment of dependency on false reforms. Furthermore, the move to discredit teachers and educators through the removal of due-process rights and graduate degree pay along with shoddy teacher evaluation protocols have harvested more fear than real progress. And the greatest of teachers, Yoda, tells us in The Phantom Menace that,

“Fear is the path to the dark side.”

It is this false fear that public schools are the root of the problems that now plague North Carolina and drives the actions of the NC General Assembly in “reforming” our public school system. So much has changed in the landscape of education in North Carolina in these last few years. My hope is that we can avert further damage and not suffer the fate of the Alderaan system.

The establishment of a grade letter school performance system and the expansion of Opportunity Grants has not strengthened public education; it has hurt public education. These initiatives are what Obi-Wan Kenobi refers to when he states,

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for….”

Add to those reforms the contracts for virtual schools that the state has brokered and I see a move to depend more on computers than on the best resource that our state has for public education: our teachers. Even a droid can tell you that that is not good for education like when C3PO tells R2-D2,

“R2-D2, you know better than to trust a strange computer!”

People without educational experience are dictating what happens in classrooms more than those who have the proper experience and knowhow. Han Solo makes this point in the 1977 release of A New Hope. He tells Luke Skywalker,

“Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, farm boy.”

And it isn’t. Traveling through hyperspace is not for those who have never been in a spaceship before. A wookie could tell you that.

Stuart Egan’s Wookie Impression

Additionally, reforming public education in North Carolina is not a job for those who have no idea what a classroom is like. Teachers and educators see that increased human interaction between a teacher (especially when experienced and respected) and student can overcome great odds.

When C3PO tells Han Solo that he cannot fly through an asteroid field, he does not put into consideration who is doing the piloting. The droid states,

“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.”

But Solo is an expert. He’s like an experienced veteran teacher in the classroom and he is confident. That asteroid field is akin to all of the obstacles placed in front of teachers (increased class size, too many standardized tests, expanded duties, etc) as they try and do their job. Han Solo and his crew make it through.

This next election cycle really starts now. This requires actually educating yourselves on the issues and practicing your rights to speak out, speak up, and speak to. It also means to vote. One cannot be passive – Yoda instructs us on that (with his inverted syntax).

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Many of my colleagues are leaving the profession. Some leave because their salaries have been frozen in carbonite and will not allow them to raise families in the way they wish. Some leave because our profession is not respected. We need our teacher education programs in our colleges and universities to be invested in, not divested from.

But I am hearing more and more teachers speaking about how they will not leave; they are staying to fight the fight. It’s just like Obi-Wan Kenobi when he looked Darth Vader in the eye and calmly stated,

“You can’t win, Darth. Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

That’s the attitude that we need to have as teachers, educators, and advocates for public education. This fight is far from over and why should we keep fighting for our schools? As Yoda states,

“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”

Grab your closest wookie and ewok friends. Hop on your land speeder, X-wing fighter, or Millennium Falcon and go to the polls this next election cycle. Educate yourselves about the real issues surrounding public education. Like a great teacher, Yoda instructs us well when he says,

“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”

Send messages to others through your droids, see past the Imperial rhetoric, stand up against the Greedos and the Jaba the Huts and,

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

And last but not least, always remember…

“the Force will be with you, always.”

Stuart Egan

Stuart Egan is an English teacher at West Forsyth High School in Winston Salem, North Carolina.