AFT President Randi Weingarten on March 28 delivered an address titled “In Defense of Public Education” that delved into such issues as gun violence, school voucher programs and culture wars.

Here are select quotes from Weingarten’s address:

• “Today we renew our call for common-sense gun safety legislation, including a ban on assault weapons. … It’s an epidemic that our great nation must solve.”

• “Only public schools have as their mission providing opportunity for all students, and by virtually any measure … parents and the public overwhelming like public schools, value them, need them, support them.”

• “In good times and bad, public schools are cornerstones of our community, of our democracy, of our economy, of our nation. But some people want that cornerstone to crumble, and they’re wielding sledgehammers. Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it.”

• “Voucher programs are proliferating even though research shows that on average, vouchers negatively affect achievement.”

• “What started as fights over pandemic-era safety measures have morphed into fear-mongering. … Disgusting, unfounded claims that teachers are grooming and indoctrinating students.”

 • “And don’t we want students to learn both our nation’s achievements — the things that make us proud — as well as the failings that make us strive to do better? That’s America, and frankly, that’s an educator’s job.”

Weingarten outlined four strategies for powerful education:

• Community schools (calling for 25,000 by 2025)
• Experiential learning (giving a shoutout to Montclair State University’s Red Hawks Rising teacher academy program in the process)
• Addressing staff shortages
• Partnership between families and educators (citing AFT’s Powerful Partnerships Institute grant program)

In closing, Weingarten said, “We’re at a crossroads: Fear and division, or hope and opportunity. … A great nation does not fear being educated. A great nation does not fear pluralism. A great nation doesn’t have a gun epidemic. A great nation chooses freedom and democracy and equality and opportunity, and all of that starts in our public schools.”

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