So we have an Oklahoma teacher, who went viral while panhandling for school supplies. To be brief: It is is terrible. Truly terrible, as in the root of the word “terror”. If this how we are to save schools, we are already doomed.
Theresa Danks, the start of the video and head of “Begging for Education”, is a white woman. What if the beggar, her words not mine, was a Black woman? Would they be called a welfare queen? Would someone call the cops? What if she was Hispanic/Latina? Would she make $50,000, or would someone call ICE?
Imagine if she was wearing a Khimar.
What if a bunch of Oklahoma school kids were out begging for supplies? If they were black, they might go to jail. We know this because a group of African-Americans were arrested on public land for selling water. Oklahoma is the same state where Terrance Crutcher was shot to death by a police officer while standing still with his hands in the air. The officer was found not guilty by her felow Hokies.
The idea that one can simply walk the street and ask people for money could only come from a place where you believe society is committed to keeping you safe. That is most likely true for Ms. Danks. It is most likely true for the majority of educators, but it is not true for everyone.
This matters because the funding Ms. Danks is supposed to be protesting is, in many ways, a story of racism. In Pennsylvania, funding for a school district is directly tied to the ratio of white people who live there. That’s not an exaggeration.
The trend is the same nationwide. But nowhere on Ms. Danks’ site, “Begging For Education”, does she mention race. In fact, having read her Facebook and GoFundMe, there is zero mention of Race. There is zero words on the state budget, which has been cut to the bone. Nowhere does Danks advocate for organizing teachers, calling legislators, or taking any action other than donating to Danks. She also doesn’t mention gender, like how the teachers suffering from budget cuts, and therefore begging on the highway are most likely women. Or the how the legislators enacting these cuts are men. In fairness to Ms. Danks, it is not that her site ignores these issues. “Begging for Education” is utterly devoid of content. “Awareness” should be made of sterner stuff.
Let’s again assume the best intentions. Ms. Danks and the legions of teachers who rely on GoFundMe and DonorsChoose may believe they are helping, but they are actually normalizing the radically unjust practices of American public schools. The legislators in Oklahoma and every other state who refuse to fund schools are tickled pink by this stuff. What change, what awareness in history has been brought about by begging?
I think about ADAPT, the disability-rights activists who were thrown out of wheelchairs and arrested for protecting everyone’s Medicare. I think of activist teachers in Philadelphia, arrested fighting for the rights of immigrants. I think about Autherine Lucy. And I think if I brought them my apolitical puppies-and-rainbows plan called “Begging for Education”, I would simply immolate from shame.
Oklahoma teachers don’t need charity. They need a Union. They need to organize, get mad, stand in the road instead of on the side. They need to read the history of labor and resistance. They need to convince every parent to help them shut the State. They need to run for office, raise Hell and taxes. Don’t bite. Danks’ made-for-TV-unicorn-latte-pop-up-autoplay-activism may help her kids today. It will bury the rest of us tomorrow.