By Félix Pérez
Hundreds of teachers of the year and other educators from across the country are participating in a daylong teach-in Feb. 17 in El Paso, Texas, to draw the nation’s attention to the more than 10,000 immigrant children detained in overcrowded federal facilities and at risk of “significant psychological injury.”
Teachers Against Child Detention (TACD), a group of teachers led by Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, argues that the mass detention of children “violates their fundamental rights and can cause irreparable damage to their well-being and development.”
“I would hope that people wouldn’t see locking up children as ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat.’ These are children, and I’m a teacher,” said Manning, who teaches high English in Spokane, Wash.
Organizers of the 10-hour Teach-in for Freedom, who aim to have at least one teacher from each state, have asked participating teachers to prepare a block of instruction on child incarceration, immigration or some other related topic.
For educators, concern for the well-being and safety of children and students has always been at the heart of who they are. “When children come to our country, they belong to us collectively as Americans. Every child in our care deserves that same safety and nurturing that I strive to give to my students,” said Michael Soskil, the 2017 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.
Soskil said educators “are uniquely positioned to speak for children in a way that cuts through the political polarization that we see in our country right now. . . Keeping children safe so that they can reach their potential is what we do. It’s time for us to use our voice to demand our government stop incarcerating children, not because it is a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but because we are the protectors of children in this country.”
“As teachers, our life’s work is protecting and nurturing children,” explains TACD on its website. “TACD calls on all educators to act as mandatory reporters and speak out against the atrocities being perpetrated against immigrant children in U.S. government custody.”
Rick Joseph, 2015-16 Michigan Teacher of the Year, will be among the educators in Texas. Calling the detention and separation of children from their parents “simply unconscionable,” Joseph said,
Children don’t have the vision to make sense of the bigger picture. They can’t understand the larger machinations of why this is happening. They just want to be safe and warm and loved and comforted. They want to be fed and clothed, and they want to be held by Mom or Dad.
TACD is calling on the U.S. government to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families. “We call, instead, for the government to protect immigrant children, in strict compliance with the Flores decree, without exception for ‘emergencies’ that have allowed children to be incarcerated for extended periods. We demand that immigrant children in U.S. custody (1) never be separated from their families, (2) be held in the least restrictive settings possible, and not in large institutional facilities. . . , and (3) be released to their sponsors within 20 days as required by Flores.”
I call on the U.S. government to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families.
Educators and medical professionals have long criticized the separation of and detention of children. “Separating children poses significant risk of traumatic psychological injury to the child,” Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service testified before Congress Feb. 7. He said neither he nor anyone he worked with “would ever have supported such a policy.”
Asked what he hopes will happen after the teach-in, Soskil said, “I don’t see the Teach-In for Freedom as a one-day event. It is the beginning of a movement led by teachers to protect children. Many people in the United States, teachers included, don’t know the realities of what is going on in these child detention centers across the country. . . As more teachers learn about what is happening, this movement will grow until there is enough pressure on our government to stop detaining children.”