'Look At Us, Help Us, Somebody See Us': Detroit Teachers Document Horrifying School Conditions

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

Detroit public school teachers take to Twitter to show just how bad it is at their schools

Detroit public school teachers are taking to Twitter to share images of the deplorable conditions of some of the schools. These look like stills from a horror movie, not a place where children are expected to learn. Whatever “excuses” politicians are giving for the state of these schools don’t even matter. How does this not qualify as a state of emergency?

So kids (and teachers, alike) are inhaling black mold, using bathrooms that would put an abandoned Exxon to shame, learning with no heat, and technology classrooms without access to the internet? In what parallel universe is this acceptable? Unfortunately, the one where we don’t give a shit about inner-city kids or the adults struggling to teach them.

“We are losing generations of children because we are failing them. We are failing them because we are not able to provide everything that they need: textbooks, programming and even the facilities,” Lakia Wilson, the school’s counselor and union representative told CNN. “And that is criminal. And those are just the basics, that’s the necessities.

Last week, Detroit teachers conducted a sickout protest that shuttered 20 schools on Monday and 60 schools on Tuesday. Michigan State Senator Phil Pavlov responded by crafting legislation that would prohibit these sickouts. He told Michigan Radio that the sickout were nothing but “illegal strikes” and his legislation “could include stripping teacher certifications from those who participate in the protests.” Really? You have time for this, Senator Pavlov? You have time for radio interviews and crafting of new legislation that would punish teachers when children in your state are suffering in conditions like this? Shame on you.

Teachers are pushed to a drastic measure like a sickout to be heard. How can any teacher be expected to work in a condition like this? How can any student be expected to learn? This isn’t just shameful — it has got to be illegal. Buildings department? OSHA? Where are you?

Teachers are being chided for stepping up for children, and they are essentially being abandoned by their state’s elected representatives. Darnell Earley, the emergency manager running Detroit Public Schools, called the sickout “unethical,” and “unacceptable.” He accused teachers of using students as “pawns to advance a political position.” What’s unacceptable is that teachers are being shamed for a protest that was a long time coming. Pam Namyslowski, a teacher in the Detroit Public School system, posted a response to these accusations: “The recent action of teachers is not an attempt to drown out the voices of the students. It is an attempt to finally make their voices heard.”

“You described the actions of protesting teachers as ‘unethical’. I’m curious, then, how you would characterize the learning conditions of the children of Detroit Public Schools that have existed for years.” She wonders where his outrage was when all the years these schools have been crumbling around him. According to her words, he travels with a driver and security guards — something the teachers and students working and learning in these unsafe neighborhoods aren’t afforded. She’s understandably outraged at being accused of using the children she’s dedicated her life to teaching as “pawns”:

“We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles. In the winter, we often work with them in freezing rooms with our coats on. In the summertime , we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset. We send food home with them. We encourage them to persevere and to be hopeful about their futures. We celebrate their successes. We comfort them when they experience loss and tragedy. We give up time with our own children to support our students, who we also consider our children. We spend our own money to buy not only learning materials, but things such as uniforms, hand soap, sanitizer, and Kleenex.”

The entire posts deserves a read and a share. These conditions are unbelievable. Especially considering another school-related story to emerge out of Michigan this year: one depicting the grand opening of a high school just 30 minutes away from Detroit. The comparison is mind-numbing. The headline of the article announcing the school’s open reads, “New Bloomfield Hills High has fireplace, grand staircase.” Here are some images from the school’s Facebook page:

This one is captioned, “Bloomfield Hills High School students collaborating by the fireside lounge!”

This one says, “The new year will bring two new beautiful spaces to BHHS!”

Same state. Thirty minutes. A world away.

“We want to hope,” Wilson told CNN. “I think that’s why we’ve stayed so long and we have this huge outcry, saying ‘Look at us, help us, somebody see us.’ ”

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