Another Perspective

Kids These Days

What has the world come to when teenagers clamor to get back into school?

By 10.7.03

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Our story thus far: When the district superintendent refused to comply with more than 30 union demands, the teachers of Marysville, Washington, voted to strike on September 1 to protest the new three-year employment contracts. At that time, many parents expressed their support for the union and some students even locked arms with their teachers on the picket lines outside the school grounds.

In my last missive, I posed the idea that, perhaps, the teachers chose to strike to remind the public and the school district officials who is really in charge. This seemed reasonable because the teachers were aware of the school board's non-cooperation since the beginning of August but chose to wait until the first day of school to strike, under the ruse of allowing the maximum amount of time for negotiations.

Time dragged on and, though it may be uncool to want to go back to school, the students started to get antsy. It began to dawn on seniors, in particular, that they will be competing with the rest of the nation's graduates for admission into colleges and universities.

Of course, it gets worse. Not only are they missing class time; they are unable to meet with academic advisors to discuss their college applications. Advanced Placement students, who have spent years working overtime to gain college credit in high school, are beginning to panic over the daunting national exams in May.

Putting their parents to shame, the students at Marysville-Pilchuck High School decided that, after a month of striking, enough was enough. They kindly requested that their teachers return to class. The teachers refused.

So: The annoyed students held an all night sit-in to protest the work stoppage. The media was notified, the students blasted Pink Floyd's "We don't need no education" from loudspeakers (it's called irony), and the teachers continued to strike.

Frustrated young scholars, led by the senior class president Dustin Dekle but by no means limited to the senior class, begged governor Gary Locke to intervene. Locke said there was nothing he could do but he would talk to some people, which led precisely nowhere.

The exasperated students then made good use of their media-saturated upbringing. With the support of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), they called a press conference. The union responded by calling the EFF an "evil band of zealots."

EFF Communications Director Marsha Richards reported that rather than discouraging her colleagues, the insult has spurred them on to love and good deeds. "We didn't want to disappoint the union, so we thought we should do something zealous," said Richards. EFF staff "cover[ed] up their horns" and went to Marysville to hand out literature on school funding to teachers, students, and parents.

Among other things, the fliers pointed out that the average Marysville teacher makes over $54,000 a year, and that school strikes are illegal under Washington state law. Rather than using the children as a "pawn in this conflict," Richards said, teachers should return to school and work out their differences like grownups.

And in the background, superintendent Linda Whitehead, whose meek voice could barely be heard over all of the flying venom, whispered that, perhaps, one of these days, the district would go to court and have a judge enforce the no-strike provision of the teachers' contracts, and order them back into the classroom.

Oh, now they're scared. Shaking. Really.

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About the Author

Heather Roscoe writes from Washington state.