ENGLISH TEACHER AT MERIDIAN HIGH SCHOOL
Why I Am a Member of the Association? “People need to be empowered, and they can only be empowered by joining together.”
“A healthy middle class is necessary for democracy,” says Debra Smith, a dynamic English teacher who spent years in private enterprise and corporate foundations before teaching at Meridian High School in 2000.
The Idaho reader is forgiven for thinking that a background in private enterprise would counsel against becoming a strong Association member. That’s the myth propounded by some political leaders. The message hasn’t reached Debra Smith.
She speaks with passion about her opinions formed by life experiences, travel and study. And her comment about the shrinking middle class of which teachers form a significant part are accurate. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the percentage of Americans making between $35,000-$100,000, has shrunk from 53% to 43%.
Debra worked twelve years in private industry first for Levi Strauss, the apparel maker, as an analyst and planner, then eventually for the Levi Strauss Foundation.
Debra observes that when she started working for Levi Strauss & Co., apparel imports constituted a mere 12% of the total, and domestic manufacturing stood at a healthy 88%, representing jobs for hundreds of thousands and a stable lifestyle for the middle class.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 1990 and 2011, about 750,000 apparel manufacturing jobs in the U.S. vanished. “The numbers flipped,” she says, “with 80% of apparel jobs sent overseas and only 12% remaining in the United States.”
Debra tells of several other revelations which altered her thinking over the course of her life starting in her youth.
“I remember a John Birch Society neighbor who upon hearing of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination came to our house swinging a washing machine agitator and threw it into the garbage can making a big noise. He announced, ‘That’s what we do with black agitators.’”
Her work with the Levis Strauss Foundation attempting to spur economic development took her to rural communities in Georgia, once rich with textile factories and churning out Levi’s by the millions. As she toured now shuttered factories, she witnessed once thriving towns withered economically and socially. A socially responsible employer, Levi Strauss and Co. tried to spur development and offer training programs, but the seismic shift brought on by international trade agreements and the weakening of unions could not be stopped by individual companies. In Georgia, Debra foresaw the economic turmoil that is defining the presidential primary today.
Her life experiences also included learning about Constitutional and labor law while typing the notes for her husband, an attorney. She became interested in American studies pursuing credits to gain her teaching credential in Language Arts Education from influential BSU professors like Dr. Lamont Lyons in the Department of Education, and Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm in the English Department. A two-year stint living in another culture made her curious about American culture and valuesj, and now informs her love of American Literature.
She joined the Association as soon as she was hired in 2000.
This mother of three grown children–all educated in West Ada schools–has remained faithful to her Association membership since, even when her personal fortunes were under stress and while public education in Idaho was under a dark cloud, including the Luna Laws and its assault on teachers.