Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday voiced strong support for recent teacher walkouts in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and elsewhere. Their protests for higher pay, more education funding and better working conditions “are in the tradition of our finest social movements,” Holder declared. “The teachers are right!”
Addressing a convocation ceremony for master’s degree recipients of Teachers College, Columbia University at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem, NY, Holder, the nation’s first African American Attorney General, who served under President Barack Obama and now leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, raised a handful of pressing issues facing U.S. education, including teacher pay and equity. He bemoaned that education, and teacher salaries and empowerment, are taking a back seat in national priorities.
“Why do politicians advocate for more guns in schools, but not more books?” he asked. “When are we going to stop talking about Tweets and start focusing on what I believe is the administration’s total lack of capacity and ability to better our educational system?”
Holder is one of four luminaries receiving the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service at convocation exercises this week. Other recipients are the historian and journalist Jelani Cobb, author of the widely acclaimed book, The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress; Walter Mischel, who is ranked among the world’s most influential psychologists for his famed “marshmallow experiments,” which shed new light on children’s impulse control and capacity for delayed gratification; and the globally recognized public health leader Helene D. Gayle, CEO of The Chicago Community Trust.
Presiding over the final Convocation exercises of her 12-year term at the helm of Teachers College, President Susan Fuhrman Tuesday morning sent forth graduates of four TC departments – Behavioral Sciences, Counseling & Clinical Psychology, Education Policy & Social Analysis, and Health & Behavior Studies – with a message reinforcing the underlying importance of research, now and in the future.
“Graduates, your TC education has prepared you to translate evidence that’s been generated by research into practice, and to evaluate the results,” President Fuhrman said. “You will tailor what you have learned to the specific contexts and communities in which you work.”
She said her experience at TC inspired her to “be a part of the movement to ending the stigma of mental health in communities of color, because it is important that there are therapists that look like me in my field.”
Educators do not bear this burden alone, noted student speaker Oluwabusayomi Olawale (Wale), who received her master’s degree in Mental Health & Counseling. Okerayi said her program allowed her, a self-described “Nigerian American Black woman” from Texas, to have “very difficult conversations about topics such as intersectional, race and gender identity, and the injustices we face and see on daily basis.” She said her experience at TC inspired her to “be a part of the movement to ending the stigma of mental health in communities of color, because it is important that there are therapists that look like me in my field.”
Olawale is one of about 1,800 masters and doctoral graduates receiving degrees this week from Teachers College.
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“Be at the forefront of the policy changes that will be at the forefront of lasting change. Change the culture of our country and help end inequities in education that cement disparities in wealth and health and success.”
In his address, Holder, noting that the average teacher’s salary is $58,000 – and some make much less – were “already being asked to do too much for too little.” As they fight for more power and equity in their own professions, “I am going to ask you to do one more thing,” Holder said. “Be at the forefront of the policy changes that will be at the forefront of lasting change. Change the culture of our country and help end inequities in education that cement disparities in wealth and health and success.”
Full remarks can be heard at Teachers College Facebook page.
Photo credit: Eric Holder.