Why Strike? DPS Teachers Weigh Bad-News Burnout against the Threat of Inaction

Written by: Kacy Martin

Primary Source:  Green & Write, May 4, 2016

It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. Teachers in Detroit walked out again en masse on May 2 and 3 to protest the abysmal conditions of most of their school buildings and the apparent lack of political urgency around what to do about district’s long-term funding crisis. This is the second large-scale walkout the Detroit Schools have seen this year, along with many smaller ones that attempted to alert the public to the true desperation of their circumstances.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

It’s a tragic situation with no easy solutions. But therein lies the problem with convincing the public to share in their outrage. Combined with the constant and necessary coverage of the Flint water crisis, consumers of the news media may have reached a point of saturation with bad news from Michigan.

It’s a familiar cycle to anyone who keeps up with current events. Initial feelings of horror and indignation turn into frustration over one’s powerlessness to help. This feeling of helplessness causes citizens to resort to apathy to cope with their compassion fatigue and turn off the news when it becomes overwhelming. It’s within this context of bad-news burnout that Detroit teachers are trying to leverage public anger to provoke the political change necessary to remedy the extreme injustice in their schools.

Individual teachers and the union as a collective must consider this dilemma and make a decision about which course of action is most likely to yield a long-term solution for the city’s students. This judgment call is made even more difficult by the fact that as employees in a right-to-work state, Michigan’s non-unionized teachers don’t have to participate in the strike if they have reservations. Strikes, of course, are only effective when a critical mass of workers has walked off the job to bring business as usual to a grinding halt.

Protest requires public support in order to force the hands of those in power. Change to the status quo is expensive and requires political negotiation and a lot of work. City and state officials, therefore, have every reason to keep things the way they are if members of the democracy, along with the media informing and reflecting their opinions, say and feel nothing about an unjust situation. As an illustration, bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes, who currently manages the district, called the union’s decision a “drastic call to action,” declaring the protests “counterproductive and detrimental”.

Mr. Rhodes and the other critics of the strike might consider the strategy behind its timing before dismissing it as counterproductive. Currently under review is a legislation package that, while imperfect, would significantly ease the fiscal stress that has crippled schools’ ability to serve students. Experts have praised the bill, calling it, “[the] kind of legislation that represents what state government should do.” Lawmakers know their decision about the vote is impending, and are likely listening to their constituents to gauge whether or not to support it.

As members of the public, then, it behooves us to combat this bad-news burnout and pay attention. Our vocal criticism of the handling of the budget crisis, and our continued dismay over government officials’ apathy about the state of DPS classrooms, matters. The protests in Detroit will be worth the lost instructional time for our state’s kids if we, as a collective, respond with the solidarity that will finally cause our elected officials to take decisive action.

Find out how to contact your representatives and ask them to take action for Detroit Public Schools:




Contact Kacy: kmartin@msu.edu

– See more at: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/2016/why-strike-dps-teachers-weigh-bad-news-burnout-against-the-threat-of-inaction/#sthash.G9XNSgYe.dpuf

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Kacy Martin
Kacy Martin entered the Educational Policy program in the fall of 2013. After completing a Bachelor and Master's degrees at the University of Michigan, she taught in the Chicago Public Schools, serving on the Instructional Leadership Team and creating professional learning cycles to improve teacher practices in reading instruction. Her research focuses on the impact of parent social networks on school choice in urban districts, the relationship between urban planning and school enrollment, and the politics of education finance at the local and state levels.