Born from the fires of discrimination in 1917 and 1918, SDTA arose from the wickedness of a Board of Education that capriciously fired 18 teachers. A newly elected school board that obtained the name of “The Solid Three” targeted 18 educators who refused to sign an oath of loyalty and servitude to the Board of Education. According to the Board, they were not:
“absolutely and unqualifiedly loyal to our government and institutions and 100% American… several were under surveillance by the authorities for Pro-Germanism.”
—School Board Member, 1918
San Diego teachers stood fast in response to these attacks on their colleagues. High school and junior college students joined the cause. Principals resigned their positions in protest, and the movement expanded. The San Diego newspapers raised a storm of protest. The chamber of commerce stood with the teachers.
In the end our brothers and sisters prevailed, but irrevocable damage had already been done. Many of the impacted teachers and administrators never came back to teach in San Diego. Some never returned to the profession they loved. Lives were shortened by the thoughtless political action against people who cared not just about children, but cared enough about their profession to stand up to The Solid Three. From the ashes of the careers of those who came before us, the San Diego Teachers’ Association emerged.
On November 22, 1922 new SDTA President E.L. Moore penned the following:
“Let us make our Teachers’ Association all that it should be. All that concerns teachers or children in school should be the business of the association. What happens to one teacher might happen to any.
Join, not as a matter of advantage, but as a civic duty, and lend a hand. You have ideas. Put them into writing and hand them or mail them to the president or to a member of the board or directors. They will be referred to the board or to the proper committees and all possible will be done to carry them into effect. Be active. Be available. Help whenever you see the opportunity. You are a teacher, do your part with cheerfulness and enthusiasm to make your organization all that it can be. Encourage other teachers to do likewise and in time the teachers of our children will come to occupy the position of dignity and influence in our American life.”
SDEA, we stand today on the shoulders of giants!
Nearly a century later, our District is once again characterized by external political strife and uncertainty. We are reaching out! Our leadership is actively seeking meetings with community leaders and policy makers at all levels. It will be a long road to build the power needed to push sensible and proactive legislation from the school board, to the state house, to congress.
The political reality is that simply standing by in educational politics means that someone else is going to put forward an agenda, and it won’t be our agenda. We do not have the money that Exxon and Chevron have gouged from our gas tanks. We do have the people, the reason why organization is the key. These words from the SDTA Bulletin written in 1934 echo still down our corridors of power today:
“The attack on public education will again be renewed by its enemies with greater intensity. Reduction of educational costs, curtailment of curricula, breaking up of the solidarity and morale of the teaching profession will be attempted by the production of new legislation. Bills will be introduced covering tenure… removal of the constitutional guarantee and the state fixed charges for school support, doing away with physical education and other curricular activities… [and the] elimination of adult education.”
In the past we have been organized over an election or a strike, reaching peaks and descending into valleys in our capacity to carry out our political agenda. Today, politics means that we must remain in a constant state of readiness, able to respond quickly and effectively to our needs. So too has that been the case throughout our union’s history. In 1964, SDTA President Burt “Kenny” Vorce wrote the following:
“It is no simple thing to focus interest upon matters, which do not evoke shock, conflict, rebellion, or the excitement of suspicion of motive. The daily practice, which leads to a championship performance, rarely makes headlines. So it is with the work of SDTA.
Today off Point Loma the visible Pacific Ocean was almost indolently calm. Without the skin diver’s intimate knowledge of the vibrant, teeming activity beneath the surface, the Pacific was, in fact, dull.
To some dues-paying-only SDTA members the Association is always surface deep. For them, it is always, ‘What have you done for me recently?’ Actually, this self-centered attitude is most helpful since it stirs the conscientious, working member to constant re-examination of the effectiveness of our Association.
Often, however, the working member is so engaged in the struggle beneath the surface toward a specific objective that he isn’t even aware of the stillness. He seeks the satisfaction of achievement, oblivious to headlines or self-glorification.”
We are reminded that power concedes nothing without demand. It is up to us to demand our rightful seat at the table where decisions that affect our work and our students are made. In resisting those forces that would dismantle public education through a series of cuts and so-called “reforms” driven by spurious data, these words from founding SDTA member Gilbert Deer, written in 1946, ring increasingly true:
“On teachers being told that ‘It is up to the teachers to show where [the money for a raise] can be found…’
…I must confess that my ire has risen a few points higher each successive time that I have hear this stock alibi in the last 40 years. Every Board member and teacher from then till now has known full well where the money comes from, and if he hasn’t there has always been a group of citizens perfectly willing to provide that information, and it isn’t the teachers’ obligation to go to the Board of Supervisors and ask for an increase in the budget. It’s the obligation of the Board of Education. I condemn the idea and the too prevalent practice of determining what the level of the teachers’ salary shall be by the amount which remains in the supervisors’ budget after every other public expenditure has been taken care of. The quality of service to youth should not be only such as is attracted by crumbs.”
Our course in the coming years is to lead the SDEA renaissance with a vision and commitment to openness and transparency to provide you and our members with all the information needed to make intelligent choices about difficult issues. With your commitment, this must be SDEA.
Our task is to construct SDEA as the leader in urban education, building the kind of workplace where every person is respected for the contributions they make, every person is heard and their ideas evaluated; every student succeeds to their ability. With your strength, this will be SDEA.
Our vision is of 8,000 educators standing together in solidarity and support of each other. With your commitment, and our member’s involvement, we are SDEA.
Our duty is to take our rightful place at the table:
- To prove that an urban union can collaborate with administrators in building an urban school district that excels;
- To enlist, with respect, support staff in our cause;
- To educate board members who are sometimes in the dark.
All of this we must do to create a school district that fulfills the promise of each student and respects the integrity of each employee.
From the tyrannical actions of a post-war school board the eerily similar atrocities of the Bersin years, we have grown tempered and wise. We know that we can never step back from what is right for our students and for our members. We know that our strength comes from unity and organization. And we know that an injustice to any school employee is an injustice to us all.
We are proud of our past as we continue the struggle that our forbearers began and which will continue long into our future. We have our work cut out for us. We must continue to represent our members with a new voice. We must speak with the wisdom of our members because we have listened. We must be proud in our democracy because exercising it is healthy. We must be strong in our belief that we make sound choices because we have a fully informed membership and leadership.
As we move forward in a time of economic instability and increasing onslaughts against public education and the promise it represents to our children, we must draw strength from our unity. We have a strong and proud history, SDEA, and it is our charge to carry on that legacy.
Together we are stronger!