S + F = Solidarity Forever: San Francisco Teachers and Students Give a Lesson in Just Power

admin_general - Posted on 15 January 2022

S + F = Solidarity Forever

San Francisco Teachers and Students Give a Lesson in Just Power



By Mira Martin-Parker


It is amazing how powerful teachers and students can be when they unite. A good teacher quite literally changes the quality of a student’s life, and truly empowers them. Famous teachers throughout history—Pythagoras, Socrates, even our own beloved political “father” Ben Franklin—all brilliantly displayed to their students and the world what the just exercise of power looks like. These teachers all lived their beliefs, and in doing so wordlessly conveyed to others the qualitative nature of abstract political ideas such as truth, justice, and equality. Equality looks like THIS, their lives said. Equality is moderate, courageous, and wise. Just power is humble, compassionate, and generous. Powerful people are happy, healthy, honest, and loving. True power looks like THIS, their lives said.

 Today’s public school teachers do precisely the same thing every day they go to work within their classrooms. They show their pupils how complex abstract concepts relate to everyday human existence. In the teacher’s empirically perceivable acts of kindness, concern, and curiosity regarding those under their care they illustrate for their students the Golden Rule/Golden Mean. They don’t tell this rule to students, they show it to them. From teachers students learn the arts of self-control, self-discipline, and self-knowledge. And students are receptive to receiving instruction from them because they trust their qualitative integrity. Students grant conscious consent to the teacher’s influence; it’s not simply imposed from above.

This relation of trust is not grounded in mere belief/faith only, but in solid understanding. Students can give reasoned arguments in support of why they believe in the merit of their teachers, because these same students perceive this merit manifested in action. Students verify with evidence provided from their physical senses the reasons supporting their qualitative judgments about their teachers. They know their teacher is good because they perceive this goodness for themselves. 

Teachers reveal the difference between two distinct concepts directly related to social justice: 1 Good for me, and 2 Goodness itself. These concepts are not two equal things, as in two equal mental experiences, but are two separate and distinct ways humans view their reality. The first is directly through sense experience (feels good/bad to me), and the second involves the mental act of introspection, observing pre-existing beliefs and ideas (is good/bad for everyone). Teachers are those socially charged with conveying to others the logical distinction between physical objects and mental concepts, between information purely derived from the senses and that already present within the mind, between things and “things.” Once this difference is fully grasped, children can then genuinely comprehend the qualitative difference between acting purely on the principle of good for me/the part, and acting on behalf of all/the whole. Someone who doesn’t grasp the nature of this difference is not necessarily evil, but ought not to be fully trusted with one’s physical wellbeing because they are unable to distinguish between good for themselves (for the part), and goodness for others (including one’s self). 

At present, San Francisco Teachers are vividly attempting to convey this rather basic and fundamental logical distinction to society at large, and their students are standing with them. My son and his friends left class yesterday because they did not feel safe in their high school. SFUSD appears to be deliberately sabotaging its own stated goal of attempting to deliver in-person instruction, by not adequately addressing workplace safety concerns. If any city on the planet has enough money to tackle the basic health and safety needs of its educators it is San Francisco. But just like the City government’s response to homelessness, SFUSD appears to be practicing a toxic form of the Chinese concept wu wei, or intentionally “non doing.” The resources exist, but those in power are choosing not to access them, because they have other plans for both the City and for public education, and these plans do not include unionized teachers and or their working-class pupils. The financial interests pressuring City government and SFUSD do not view power relations as reciprocal and mutually beneficial, but as inherently exploitative and extractive. For these people, Might Makes Right. 

But like the children in Socrates’ ideal republic, my son and his peers are choosing to fight alongside their teachers in defense of both their educational community and their city. In doing so, they are actively showing they understand the difference between good for me, and good for the whole. They recognize that just because someone is imperfect (i.e. is less powerful), that doesn’t mean they’re bad and have nothing valuable to contribute to social power relations. They know that imperfection and badness refer to two completely different things, and neither they nor their teachers are bad simply because they do not occupy the top position within the social hierarchy

 Thank you San Francisco teachers and students for teaching society this invaluable lesson in the nature of logical difference and social power, and for showing us all what genuine leadership, equality, and justice look like.


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