Why I’m Running

Over the more than seven years I’ve been teaching college, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in my office and talk to many of my students one-on-one. In an effort to build rapport and get over my own shyness, I realized that I could begin each conversation with questions to my students about themselves instead of jumping right into whatever musical exercise they were struggling with. This strategy not only made me better at helping them with their classwork, it also gave me insight into structural problems with our society.

You see, my struggling students aren’t dumb or ignorant or selfish. They are passionate, complex human beings who deserve better than what our current education system locks them into.

When I was in school, I was lucky enough that my sources of funding (scholarships, loans, and my parents) allowed me to spend all my time focusing on studying and practicing. I got to think about music with all of my time.

But even in the 10 years since I finished my bachelor’s degree, college costs have increased so much that my students often have to work at least one part-time job while trying to be a full-time student even with scholarships.

A freshman year music degree is often exhausting in itself without these other burdens. The anxiety, stress, and fatigue apparent in these diligent people clearly affected their ability to understand, synthesize, and harness the skills I was teaching them. And my students are highly motivated as most of them are musical education majors. That is, they are reaching for the brass ring of combining a job of working with children, a passion for music, and serving their community.

As a teacher of teachers, this situation made me search for better methods to help them learn. And I found ways of teaching that emphasized what we could do together in class rather than the work they completed outside the room. And I had an amount of success, not least in the department of gaining their trust. They could see that I cared about them, because I put their learning first. Anyone who has ever been a student knows what it’s like to have a teacher that cares. But I also kept running up against the structural problems.

Because all of this time I spent getting better as a teacher outside of the classroom was basically unpaid time. I’m an adjunct, which means I’m a part-time teacher with no benefits who is rehired anew each semester, hopefully. I did receive healthcare through the university one year, because Obamacare was enacted and I had taught 8 classes one semester when a professor went on sabbatical.

Even in my best year with my fullest schedule and good freelance music gigs, my individual income didn’t reach $25,000, even though I have graduate education and am good at what I do. This means that in order to get the best from my time as a teacher, I really needed to spend as little time doing it, and then look for other work.

This all lead me to one basic question: why does our society not care about education?

Almost a year ago to the day that I write this, I posted on facebook this statement: “We live in a time when politicians say more people need to go to college, but refuse to pay those who teach it a living wage.” Politicians talk all the time about how education is the key to the future and they offer it up as a solution every time people lose their well paying jobs as industries disappear from this country.

So at the time I was learning better ways to teach, I also went in search of why my students and I are unable to get ahead. Why is it that we all work hard, follow our dreams, and then want to give back to society through teaching, but we get stiffed with undervalued low-paying work and ever increasing student loans?

What I found surprised me, because I had my nose to the grindstone all those years. This situation where regular Americans working harder for fewer wages has been happening across the spectrum for 40 years. Our society choose to elevate bankers and software engineers rather than teachers and nurses. It easily could have been the other way.

There was no guarantee that the financial speculators would be given the right to gamble over and over again against bullshit mortgages pushed on unsuspecting homeowners, often homeowners of color. This was not the free market. This was a policy decision.

Our politicians from both parties trust bankers, but they do not trust teachers.

You can see this process over and over again when you look at every sector of our society. The rich and powerful bribe politicians with campaign donations and lobbying gifts to get them to change policy to fuck over the majority of Americans in order to further enrich those in power. The kickbacks must be great. Corruption is legal in this country.

So after this dreadful election in the fall, I decided it was finally time for me to get involved beyond my work. I wanted to make sure the values I hold dear that I apply every day when I teach are represented in Washington. And no one else stood up to protect them, so I’m running as a Green candidate for the 2017 special election in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional district.

If you care about education, healthcare, housing, ending prison slavery, and other vitally important issues, I hope you’ll volunteer, donate, and vote for me on June 20th.